Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Prep Recruiting: No Boundaries

Alta High’s Toloa’i Ho-Ching got football scholarship offers from all around the country before he finally decided to play for Brigham Young.

For the Hawks’ all-state linebacker, it was hardly a novel experience.

Ho-Ching told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was recruited heavily as a Ute Conference player for two years before ever setting foot at Alta. Even after enrolling at the Sandy high school, he said it didn’t deter multiple rival coaches from trying to woo him away.

“They promised all kinds of things,” said Ho-Ching. “They offered playing time, promised starting positions. They offered me gear. They took my father to dinner. The whole thing was really an eye-opening experience. We moved to Utah from Samoa. This wasn’t something that we were used to as a family.”

Ho-Ching’s experience is hardly unique, according to a number of Utah high school coaches. And at least one — Kearns coach Bill Cosper — says the recruiting of pre-high school and enrolled prep athletes has gotten out of control, with no sign that it will get reined in anytime soon.

Because he says the football talent base inside Kearns’ boundaries is constantly being encroached on, Cosper says he is forced to conduct what amounts to home visits with the eighth- and ninth-grade players who live in Kearns’ area. Once there, he sells kids on the virtues of staying at Kear­ns and building a winner — instead of moving on to the perceived greener pastures at other schools.

Cosper has finally started to reap rewards from his hands-on approach in the last few years. But he also asks: Why does he have to do it in the first place?

“I have to recruit my own kids,” Cosper said. “I shouldn’t have to do that. I come from Texas, and the problem here is way worse. It’s horrible here. There are all kinds of things going on. There are kids who actually change guardians just to move into another area. At the Ute Conference, coaches stand on the sidelines in full [high school] apparel.”

Cosper is not the only head coach who goes to such lengths to hang on to players. Even in the talent-rich area around Alta, Hawks coach Les Hamilton estimates that he conducts five to seven home visits a year in an effort to persuade his incoming freshmen to stay with his program.

While Hamilton counts himself as one of the lucky ones — Alta has one of the largest high school enrollments in the state — he says he still finds himself fending off recruiters who swoop in on Hawks players who haven’t cracked the starting lineup.

Ute Conference — the Wasatch Front’s largest youth football organization — is where it all starts.
Because of the state’s open enrollment laws, players can begin their prep careers at the high school of their choice. That means high schools can make recruiting pitches without fear of repercussions. Even Ute Conference officials acknowledge it has become a free-for-all.

“You can’t have open enrollment and not have recruiting,” said Dave Harrison, an executive board member for the Alta Ute Conference organization.

“If you have one [open enrollment], you’re going to have the other. It’s definitely a problem at this level.
“I know of coaches who make phone calls, asking kids to do this and do that,” Harrison added. “There are coaches who are on the sidelines during games. That’s why I feel you should play where you live. It has to be black-and-white.”

The Utah High School Activities Association has tried to clamp down on recruiting once students begin playing prep sports. A new transfer rule will force student-athletes to give up a year of eligibility if they switch schools.

UHSAA officials believe that the rule will curtail much of the recruiting that takes place once kids get to high school. The downside? It could accelerate recruiting at the pre-high school level.

“We’re looking for ways to deal with that,” UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner said. “We know that recruiting takes place at the Ute Conference. We want to stop recruiting in itself. It’s something that we know goes on and its something that, at the same time, is extremely difficult to prove.”

Troy Polamalu Eager to Erase Disappointing 2009

With his signature black locks neatly tied back and his soft-spoken responses to questions, Troy Polamalu presented a more subdued persona than one might expect.

But it's just fine with Polamalu, Pittsburgh's hard-hitting All-Pro safety, if the Steelers stay quietly under the radar for the time being.

"We're getting a lot of attention away from football, but as far as proper football attention, people don't expect us to do anything," said Polamalu, making an appearance at William and Mary's Colonial All-Pro football camp Tuesday. "If you look at the past, that's kind of where we've prevailed, as the underdog. We've come back from Super Bowl years where we were supposed to be another Super Bowl squad, and we've just blown it."

That's what happened in 2009, when the Steelers followed their world championship the previous season by going 9-7 and failing to make the playoffs. Polamalu wasn't on the field for much of the season after first spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and then straining the posterior collateral ligament in the same knee, injuries that limited him to playing in parts of only five games.

"I get paid to be a football player, not a cheerleader or a coach. I don't belong on the sideline," Polamalu said. "As a football player, you take a lot of things for granted – each snap, camaraderie in team meeting rooms – and whenever you can't be a part of that, it's disappointing."

As Polamalu rehabbed his knee without surgery, the Steelers' troubles continued in the off-season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual misconduct when a 20-year-old woman claimed that Roethlisberger assaulted her at a Georgia nightclub on March 5.

Roethlisberger was not charged in that incident, but still faces a lawsuit filed by a woman who says he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino.

Polamalu said Roethlisberger's troubles haven't been a distraction and that he's not disappointed in the quarterback, but "I guess it would be similar to dealing with a brother in a way that, you know, you're like, 'Ah, man, come on. You're better than that,' " Polamalu said. " … Obviously he's been a really big focal point of our team in the last few years, but the thing that the Steelers have built their tradition on is depth and team. Our team is not like a New England Patriots or an Indianapolis Colts in the sense that you can take Peyton Manning or Tom Brady away from the team and they would be a completely different team. We've won games without Ben, but I don't think we can win a championship without him – or it would be really tough to win a championship without Ben.

"But we'll see. He's a great friend to all of us on the team, and we're all dealing with it together."

Polamalu has no problem pinpointing what went wrong on the field for Pittsburgh in 2009.

"We didn't play Steeler football," he said. "People understand when they play the Steelers that we're going to run the ball, we're going to control the clock, we're going to play good defense and solid special teams. If one of those aspects of our game lacks, then we lose the game. That's how important Steeler football is. Whereas if you take a team like Indianapolis, they can have a bad special-teams game, they can have a bad defensive game, but their offense can always make up for it. In Pittsburgh, it's always been a team concept, and we went away from that last year."

If the Steelers can get back on track next season, then a little more attention would suit Polamalu just fine.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Big Stage in L.A.

Pomee could be close to decision

Junior Pomee made the catch of the day during one-on-one drills when he caught a deflected pass off the back of Josh Atkinson before almost slamming into a chain-link fence but that's not the only news the Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde wide receiver made at Monday's camp.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect who could easily transition into a tight end if he continues to grow said he's close to making a commitment, which could come in the next week or two.

Arizona and UCLA are the leading candidates with Florida and Southern Cal also under consideration but neither the Gators nor Trojans have offered yet. There was some talk that Pomee was prepared to commit to Arizona after visiting there in the last few weeks but the Bruins have always been considered a frontrunner. At this point it's too close to call.

Pomee, a three-star recruit rated No. 46 at his position, told earlier this month that UCLA was his favorite but after his trip to Tucson that he's now leaning toward Arizona. At the Win Forever Festival, he wouldn't give up which way he was leaning but said he'd like to have a decision soon.

One thing Pomee wants to avoid is prolonging his decision and being stressed like former Rancho Verde teammate Ronald Powell, who waited until the U.S. Army All-American Game to pick Florida instead of USC. Powell was the top-rated player by last recruiting cycle.

"I want to get it out of the way so I can get all this stress out and I want to relax and focus on my football team this year," Pomee said.

"(Powell is) my boy. I've been around him since the eighth grade, played Pop Warner, and I've been following him forever. Everything he's been through I've tried to copy and maybe even do better.

"He was fighting through it with SC and Florida and all that stuff and he just gave up on SC and he picked Florida. It made everything easier and he started focusing even more on everything he was doing. I'm going to try to do the same."

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MVP Cousins Talk All-Poly Camp and Recruiting

Defensive tackle Tani Tupou was a BYU Nike Camp MVP. He followed up that performance two days later by being named the All-Poly Camp MVP. Joining Tupou is his cousin Jarrett Finau, who holds two offers in hand and a verbal offer from BYU that would turn into a written offer if he commits. On Monday, the Tupou and Finau families will head down to BYU for an unofficial visit.

During the All-Poly Camp held in Bountiful, Utah, Tani Tupou's combination of size, agility and strength was clearly head and shoulders above the rest. Coaches participating in the camp tutored Tupou in hand- and foot-technique, coupled with placement, based on what stance the offensive lineman was taking. As to be expected, he excelled.

It was inevitable that Tupou was going to be named a camp MVP – for the third time in as many years – after the final whistle blew.

Tupou, representing the state of Washington, talked about why he committed to the Washington Huskies.

"Well, the program is coming up and that's one thing I really loved about it," Tupou said. "Coach Sarkisian, and everybody there, are great people and I love them. Sark is a really good guy … I just went over there and felt at home, especially because I live about 45 minutes away from campus. Also my dad works in the area. I also know all the Poly boys over there and I'm friends with a lot of the players over there like Sione [Potoae of the 2010 Husky class] and I know a lot of them."

Ultimately, the lure of playing in his home state was too much to pass up for Tupou and was a big deciding factor.

"It was probably my family and wanting to stay close to home and wanting to play with and around everybody," Tupou said. "I moved up from Hawaii to Washington when I was a little kid and, you know, everybody got to see me grow up. Everybody got a chance to see me play from little league to now, and so just to stay home and be able to play in front of everybody is something big that I want to do. Being able to have my family watch me play was a big reason."

Having finished up with top honors at the All-Poly Camp, Tupou and his family have some time left over the next few days to visit the area. His father Mosese and some other family members came to Utah with him for the camp.

Those other family members include the Finau family, of which Jarrett Finau was another camp participant. The cousin of Tupou, he is a 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound athlete that plays multiple positions such as defensive end, middle linebacker, outside linebacker and tight end. Finau was also included among those in the All-Poly Camp MVP honors.

"Being out here for the All-Poly Camp, you get a chance to see all the different coaches and it's a great experience," Finau said. "It's funny because back home my high school coaches mainly have me playing outside linebacker with a three-man front, so the [All-Poly Camp] coaches worked with me with all these moves and how to use my hands. They gave me a bunch of weapons to put in my arsenal.”

Finau, who like Tupou is LDS, currently has four scholarship offers and is also a Washington native.
"I have offers from Hawaii, Utah State, Washington State and Arizona. I don't really have a preference on a college right now. I'm still looking around, and some other players have committed to some of those schools. I'll be taking a look at BYU here soon."

Two weeks ago, he received a phone call from a member of the BYU staff and was verbally offered a scholarship.

"They were going to offer me a scholarship, but, because they were limited, I would have to commit to them right then. I didn't commit because I kind of felt it was too early for me and I needed time. BYU is a great school, and being Mormon, it's my church school. Jake Heaps, a local hero back in Washington, is there, and also the environment and influences that are at BYU are great also. I just didn't want to commit right then and there without having time to think about it and find out more."
Having come down to the state of Utah for the All-Poly Camp, Finau was able to see more of the area and learn a little more about BYU.

"BYU would be a great school mainly just because I'm Mormon," he said. "It's my faith and I like the Utah area. I have a lot of family here [and] being here would be a good influence on me, I guess. I'm taking a closer look at BYU now and BYU is still on my list.

"I just wanted to take a look at other options and see how I fit in with those options. All of these things can be tough sometimes. The situation with BYU kind of caught me off guard. I just felt it was too early for me to commit right now. Then I'm wondering what colleges will honor my mission. I really want to go on a mission. I know I wouldn't have to worry about that with BYU."
Finau said that Arizona is currently recruiting him the hardest.

"Arizona and Coach Mike Tuisosopo have kind of been keeping in touch with me," Finau said.

"Washington hasn't offered me yet, but they do want to see me in full action. The All-Poly Camp is one way that they can see me do that."  

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All Poly Camp Brings Best in Football to Bountiful

With the state high school football championships several months away, players across the country are already preparing for the upcoming season.

This last week, Bountiful High School played host to the All-Poly Sports football camp, which is one of the most popular and respected prep football camps in the nation. It has become an annual event at Bountiful High.

This football camp is one of the premier contact football camps in the nation and drew more than 330 participants from all over the United States. The majority of the participants were not from Utah.

The All-Poly Sports organization puts on three camps a year: one at Bountiful High School, one in America Samoa, and the last one in Hawaii.

The camps in Hawaii and America Samoa only allow for athletes from those islands.

The main focus of this football camp is to help athletes succeed in life, not just as athletes, but it helps students look beyond their athletic careers and prepare for the future. Alema Tao, the camp director, stated that the focus of the camp is to “promote higher education.”

“Camps and Clinics teach kids the importance of going to college,” Tao said. “The camp is also focused on building character and traits in these young men that will help them succeed in life beyond sports,” with his main goal being to get all of these athletes to college.

The camp was coached by former National Football League and college athletes as well as current college coaches.

Coaches from all over the nation and within Utah attended and spent time with the athletes.

These coaches and pro-athletes got a chance to talk to the camp attendees about the importance of attitude, perseverance, determination, and academics.

Last year, this camp, which had close to 150 seniors, graduated 43 athletes to division scholarships in athletics.

Bountiful coach Larry Wall is always left impressed by the camp, which he is not directly involved in. By watching from the sidelines Wall has been able to see the true work that goes into the camp.

“Alema does a great job every year getting sponsors, managing the logistics of getting the athletes from out of the state and the college coaches.

“I hope people understand the college coaches that come do so on their own dime,” he said. “There is not a stipend for these college coaches. It’s always a great week.”

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's My Turn: The Malcom Floyd Story

Malcom Floyd is the first half Samoan, half African-American wide receiver in the NFL. At 6'5", 225 pounds, he also measures in as the biggest target any quarterback has to throw at.

Floyd has spent his entire career playing in the shadows of others. He was very unfortunate to have joined the Chargers in 2004 as an undrafted free agent.

The Chargers were in the prime years of LaDainian Tomlinson's career. Marty Schottenheimer was a very run-oriented coach. Besides, the receivers were pretty well established. Not exactly the prime spot for an undrafted receiver to show up.

Floyd was waived without much chance of proving himself. He spent much of his time on the practice squad, making an annual $115,640.
Things didn't get much better for him in 2005 or 2006. In 2007 he earned a roster spot and still earned just $516,000 on the year.

Common ground

From 2002 to 2004, when Vincent Jackson was breaking records and earning awards as a receiver in Northern Colorado, Floyd was doing the exact same thing just 100 miles up the road at Wyoming.

The difference in the two: Vincent Jackson was the receiving corps for Northern Colorado, and Malcom Floyd was greatly overshadowed by fellow receiver Ryan McGuffey.

Always the bridesmaid

This is nothing new for Floyd. He wasn't even considered the best athlete in his own home. His brother (also named Malcolm) was heavily sought after for his football abilities. He played pro for the Houston Oilers from 1994-1997.

The younger Floyd actually put football on the shelf. Basketball was his game. Floyd also wanted to become a doctor and earned a degree in health sciences. In the offseason, Floyd can be found at Mission Beach boogie boarding.

Last season, Floyd finally earned the starting job as a receiver with the departure of Chris Chambers. He again took a big back seat in light of Jackson's Pro Bowl season but proved himself more than adequate.

Understanding the differences

Before you get too involved in looking at the stat sheets and comparing Floyd to Jackson, please understand the difference between a No. 1 and No. 2 wide receiver.

A No. 1 runs the lead route. He is the quarterback's first option. He is the first look. He will be thrown to twice as much as the No. 2 receiver.

In his debut at the No. 1 spot last season in Week 17, Floyd caught nine passes for 140 yards. That is spectacular. At a whole season that would be tops in the NFL at the lead spot and convert into 144 receptions for 2,440 yards.

If his debut tells us anything, it is yes, he can be the man! He is known by Chargers players as M-80 because of his explosiveness and ability to make the big plays.

2010 Prediction

With Philip Rivers passing the ball, Ryan Mathews keeping the secondary honest, Darren Sproles' explosiveness, and Legedu Naanee in the slot, the Chargers will set up the greatest trio of undrafted pass catchers ever assembled.

Malcom Floyd: Undrafted free agent—sixth season from Wyoming.

Seyi Ajirotutu: Rookie undrafted free agent from Fresno State. 6'4", 225-pound raw powerhouse fits the Chargers' receiving corps like a glove.

Antonio Gates: Eighth season undrafted free agent from Kent State. Top-five tight end in NFL history.

Malcom Floyd is the top receiver for the San Diego Chargers. He is now "finally" out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

He will be the high flyer in a balanced and explosive offense with a passing-oriented coach an elite quarterback, and an offensive arsenal full of weapons. Can he fill Jackson's shoes? Absolutely!

Floyd recently signed a tender for $3.168 million and is on the eve of taking the NFL by storm. Congratulations, Malcom Floyd—it's your turn!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Goalball is Premier Team Game For The Blind

The players wear eye patches. At either end of a nearly silent indoor basketball court in Seattle, they crouch on hands and knees like people crawling around in the dark — which in a real sense, they are.

From one side, Telea Noriega — blind since birth — takes a rubber ball and whips it, bowling-ball-style, toward the other team as the opponents wait, momentarily still and all ears. In the quiet of the gym, the sleighlike jingling of the bell-embedded ball telegraphs its path and speed for those who have learned to listen well.

Goalball is one of 22 sports played at the international Paralympic Games and the premiere team game for blind athletes, the only one created specifically for them.

Now, with a regular practice space at Franklin High School, some local enthusiasts want to give Seattle its first goalball team in 30 years, hoping to raise physical activity among a group with few such opportunities and to instill the life skills that sports can promote.

"For blind and visually impaired people, sports are so much more," said Billy Henry, of the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes. "They have the confidence to go out and find work. It's a real self-esteem builder."

Originally designed in Austria for World War II vets who'd lost their vision, goalball is like soccer, though players stay on their side of the court. "They can throw curves, change-ups and spins," said Mark Lucas, executive director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). "There's all kinds of strategy, offensively and defensively."

It's a tactile, auditory sport rather than one based on hand-eye coordination. Each team consists of three players, each positioned within individual boundaries lined with tape. Eye patches level the field, making players totally sightless if they weren't already.

The object is to get the ball past the other team while keeping it inbounds.

Through its jingling bell, defenders must quickly gauge a ball's course and then lean over to catch it or splay themselves lengthwise to block it.

At the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, the U.S. men's goalball team came in fourth and the women's team edged out China 6-5 to win a gold in front of 16,000 spectators.

"It was one of the coolest things ever in my 17 years with USABA," Lucas said.
He estimates about 40 men's and women's goalball teams throughout the United States, with another dozen or so youth squads. "There's a pipeline of athletes coming up," he said. "We're looking beyond the 2012 Paralympics in London. We're looking toward Rio. We are building an infrastructure so that we are on the medal stand there."

Seattle's Noriega, a 43-year-old Samoa native who grew up in his adoptive family in Oregon, is an accomplished athlete who wrestled and played football from fifth grade into high school. An off-and-on goalball player since 1983, he has a strong upper body, a wicked serve and an uncanny sense for the ball, relentless in its pursuit, crawling in high gear.

"I'm gonna have to go get some elbow pads," he said. "That's my style, is to go after that ball."

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sam Tuivailala May Blaze Trail in Baseball

Sam Tuivailala, who was selected in the third round Tuesday by the St. Louis Cardinals in the major league baseball first-year player draft, will go down as one of the greatest athletes in Aragon High School history.

"I don't know if we ever had a kid at the school with the wide variety of skills Sam has," said Aragon athletic director and football coach Steve Sell, an Aragon grad himself.

In addition to baseball, Tuivailala stood out as a quarterback in football and as a guard in basketball.

"If he hadn't played basketball, he could've been one of the best soccer players in the county," Sell said. "In football if we had another quarterback, he could've been the best receiver in the county."

That Tuivailala's best sport is baseball is interesting in and of itself.

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a major leaguer of Tongan ancestry.
Jefferson grad Tony Solaita was born in Samoa and played in the majors as a left-handed hitting first baseman for the Angels.

"People asked me when I started high school why I was playing baseball, that Polynesians don't play baseball," Tuivailala said. "I guess I just wanted to be different."

Mission accomplished.

We all knew Tuivailala was attracting a lot of attention from pro scouts. They were at all the Aragon games. Most observers assumed he would be drafted as a pitcher.

But the Cardinals like his athleticism. St. Louis scouting director Jeff Luhnow told the hometown Post Dispatch that they were drafting Tuivailala as a shortstop.


Tuivailala, who will be represented by Adam Karon of Sosnick Cobbe Sports, has a lot of options.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Polamalu Paving The Way For Samoans

After years of nothing but terrorizing the Cleveland Browns, Troy Polamalu is inadvertently helping to change the landscape of the Cleveland Browns. Known for his hard-hitting plays and physical toughness, Browns' management has been recently scouting and looking to the Pacific Islands recently in a quest to find players of his same caliber.

In the 2009 NFL Draft, Rey Maualuga of Samoan descent, was high on the list of the Cleveland Browns fans in the days preceding the event. Instead passing on Rey Maualuga, who later went to the Cincinnatti Bengals, and selecting David Veikune 52nd overall out of Hawaii, before then picking up Kaluka Maiava 104th out of USC.

Is it sheer coincidence? Or is there something in the water surrounding those islands?

"Polynesians, they're pretty strong, very powerful, physical people," said Veikune. "The NFL is a very physical game, so I think they put two and two together and started recruiting over there."

"We're just people trying to play football and have a job," Maiava said modestly. "I don't know if we're the chosen few or anything. We're just trying to make a living."

This year was no different in Cleveland, as the Browns picked up another Samoan player with a high motor in Shawn Lauvao. An offensive tackle out of Arizona State, that head coach Eric Mangini praises as a player that never stops working, hitting his man and then 'cleaning out the pocket' until the whistle blows.

Lauvao's attitude is one that has been sorely missed in Cleveland for years, “I like to knock heads, if I don’t have anything to do, I’m going to go see if I can smash somebody else."

Fast-forward to today, the Cleveland Browns announced the signing of undrafted free agent Martin Tevaseu, a Samoan nose tackle out of UNLV. In attendance at his Pro Day, Cleveland scouts undoubtedly walked away impressed by his performance, but Tevaseu went overlooked on draft day.

Tevaseu shed weight from an over-sized 420 pound frame, to an absolutely dominating 335 pound monster. Coming from a smaller school like UNLV, Tevaseu had to work harder to even be noticed, much like 2009 Browns' Eric Wright and Beau Bell.

Tevaseu's impressive 2009 season where he overpowered double-teams all year, earned him a spot in the East-West Shrine Game where he was coached by NFL legend Marty Schottenheimer. It's reported that the blown away coach ran up to Tevaseu in the parking lot afterwards, introduced himself, and then said the words, “I want to tell you, son, you are doing a hell of a job. A hell of a job."

It remains to be seen if Tevaseu makes the opening day roster, but with current nose tackle Shaun Rogers facing a gun possession charge, it seems his chances are that much better.

Martin Tevasau highlights:

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