“My grandfather and his grandfather were both named Samson,” the Seaside High linebacker said. “My great-grandfather looked something like Samson. He had the long hair and was athletic. They kind of thought I’d look like that, too.”
Only Samson Tonga didn’t just rely on long hair to provide his strength. His power and stamina came the old fashioned way — a lot of sweat, a lot of work and a lot of extra hours dedicated to football on and off the field.
“After practice the linebackers would all get together and do extra stuff,” he said. “We’d also work out on weekends. We didn’t take days off. We were always pushing ourselves to do more. We’d lift weights. We’d do agility drills. We worked on speed, mechanics and coverage. And we did a lot of extra cone work.”
And when it was over the 5-11, 195-pound Tonga helped Seaside High make one of the most dramatic turnarounds of any Monterey County team in most any year.
It also was a big reason why Tonga was chosen by Salinas Californian sportswriters as our Defensive Player of the Year in Monterey County.
He played a key role in helping Seaside High go from 2-8 in 2011, allowing an average of 34.6 points per game, to going 10-0 in 2012 and giving up an average of just 7.5 points per game.
In seven of Seaside’s 10 regular-season games it allowed seven points or less while delivering three shutouts.
Defense priority No. 1“Before the season started we made a priority list of things to do,” Tonga said. “The No. 1 thing on that list was to bring back the Seaside defense. I’ve always admired some of Seaside’s outstanding defensive players. I wanted us to get to that level.”
The Spartans didn’t waste time getting to work. About a month after the 2011 season ended, they began working on the following season.
“We dealt with a lot of stuff (in 2011),” Tonga said. “But it just gave us fuel to get ready for next year. We started off-season training in January and things started clicking. You could see and feel the change immediately.” Tonga took on the role of the silent leader.“I felt like to make a point you have to lead by example,” he said. “I felt like someone had to step up and pull the defense together.”
Seaside’s stinging and swarming defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown to rival Monterey High and kept MBL Gabilan Division champion Palma from scoring until it had a 25-0 lead late in the third quarter.
The Palma game was special, and not just because it was Seaside’s first win against Palma since 1981.
“That was our thank-you game to our coaches for pushing us to get better,” Tonga said.
From field to classroomTonga’s work doesn’t stop with the end of football. There’s still more to be done in the classroom, even though he carries a 3.7 grade point average.
“By the end of the year I want it to be 4.0,” he said. “My parents are pushing me to make sure education comes first.”
Not even Tonga knows yet where he might be playing next year.
“I’m going to apply to colleges and see what happens,” he said. “I’d like to play in California, maybe somewhere in the (San Francisco) Bay Area.”
Here is the rest of our All-County defense:
• LB: Shaunne Katoa, Monterey, senior — There was never much doubt about Kotoa’s talents after being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 as a junior. A three-year varsity starter, he was a first-team all-leaguer this year, despite playing injured part of the time.
“He had to deal with a lot of pressure,” Monterey coach Tom Newton said. “But he loves the competition. He really got up for the big games. He came up big in a lot of big situations this year.”
• LB: Matt Lualemana, Seaside, senior — The 5-11, 220-pounder was the second leading tackler on what was probably the No. 1-rated defense in the southern zone of the CCS.
“He was all over the field,” said his coach Al Avila. “At times he was like a strong safety. He played the pass and run effectively. He was our vocal leader. I tell everyone there were no two better linebackers than Tonga and Lualemana.”
• DL: Johnathon Tuiolosega, Seaside, senior — The 6-3, 285-pounder was not only the mainstay of Seaside’s front line, but on occasion would play the role of Refrigerator Perry on short-yardage situations near the goal line. He scored four touchdowns. Not bad for someone named Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman of the MBL Pacific Division.“He physically dominated teams,” Avila said. “He was a linebacker’s dream. He’d take on all the blocks, and most of the time he was double-teamed.”