Monday, December 27, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Junior Pomee appears to have a rather promising future ahead of him on the football field. Keep in mind, the 6-foot-3, 225-plus pound senior from Moreno Valley Rancho Verde High is one of the country’s top tight end prospects with a scholarship offer on the table from several NCAA powerhouse programs.
Pomee, however, is a bit reluctant to move forward. He has some unfinished business to take care of, namely honoring a fallen teammate, Emil Smith, who was killed in an automobile accident months before the 2010 season.
Before life continues for Pomee, it’s his desire to commemorate the life that was lost the best way he knows how: with a Southern Section Central Division championship. Accordingly, he played a prominent role in Friday night’s 42-21 semifinal victory over host La Quinta to move the Mustangs a step closer to winning a title in Smith’s memory.
“We dedicated the season to Emil, and we know he’s upstairs, watching down on us. We’re not going to let him down,’’ Pomee said. “Before our games, we carry out a banner with his picture on it and then hit the field. It’s like Emil is still with us, in some ways. His spirit motivates us. His spirit gives us energy and emotion. His spirit gets us hyped to play."
Similar to Pomee, Smith appeared to have just about everything going for him. The senior linebacker had committed to Boise State in June. On July 18, he was sitting in the passenger seat, alongside his older brother and driver, Dimitri Garcia, when they crashed into oncoming traffic in nearby Hemet.
Just like that, Smith was gone. And just like that, Pomee was devastated. His teammates, too. Seemingly everyone on campus was distraught.
“Emil meant a lot to everyone,” Mustangs coach Pete Duffy said. “He was the poster child for Rancho Verde football. He exemplified our program. He was a coaches’ dream. Rain, sleet or snow, he always gave 110 percent. Go out and play like Emil always did, I think our players know that’s the way things are supposed to be done around here.
“When Emil passed away, Junior was one of the kids that took it the hardest. He’s one of those guys who wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a lightning rod. You know when he’s mad ... and you know when he’s happy. There’s no in between with Junior, that’s just the way he plays the game and lives his life. Give him credit, through it all, he’s stepped up and emerged as a team leader in Emil’s absence. I can’t explain how important that’s been.’’
A day does not pass without Pomee thinking about his former teammate. In fact, he ends each one of his text messages with: RIP E. Smith. “He’s always on my mind,’’ Pomee said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m on the field or off the field, I try to keep Emil’s memory going strong.’’
Pomee has been largely, though not solely responsible for the emergence of Rancho Verde this season. The Mustangs, after all, are one of the Southland’s few teams left that can actually boast about having an unblemished record (13-0).
As with most programs hoping to finish undefeated, there were several close calls along the way. But each time Rancho Verde faced adversity, its leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns managed to find a way to win.
For example, in the regular-season finale against Riverside Arlington in mid-November, Pomee delivered the play of the game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. He alertly scooped an attempted onside kick by the Lions' special teams unit and returned the ball 52 yards for a touchdown to not only secure a 28-16 victory, but also help Rancho Verde clinch its fifth consecutive Inland Valley League championship and the all-important top seeding for postseason play.
Surprisingly, the Mustangs haven’t faced many challenges in the playoffs thus far. In the first round, Pomee caught 80 and 60 yard touchdown passes from Travis Champion in a 70-3 victory over Pomona Garey. It was more of the same in the quarterfinals; Pomee was one of six players to score in a 49-3 victory over San Bernardino San Gorgonio.
“Junior is a playmaker, and it doesn’t matter if he’s double- or tripled-teamed, if I throw it up to him, chances are he’s going to come down with the ball,’’ Champion said. “Quarterbacks always talk about having a go-to guy, that’s Junior for me. We have a connection. We’re on the same page. He’s a blessing and makes my job a whole lot easier, it’s plain and simple.’’
The fact Pomee has excelled shouldn’t come as a major surprise considering he moved up to play varsity ball for the Mustangs at the end of his freshman season. He has been a starter ever since. And college recruiters have kept a close eye on his progress.
Pomee runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range. No slouch in the weight room either, he bench presses 315 pounds and squats and power cleans 445 and 280 pounds, respectively. It’s also worth mentioning he possesses a 39-inch vertical jump.
At one point, Pomee had committed to play for Rick Neuheisel at UCLA. Word traveled fast, and once schools such as Florida and USC heard about his measurables and started expressing varied levels of interest, he decided to keep his options open.
Tight ends are seemingly a hot commodity these days and ESPNU ranks Pomee as the country’s No.13 player at his position.
“Junior is a great blocker, for one,” Duffy said. “He opens up wholes for our backs up the middle, or we can get out on the edge and run behind him because he makes things happen downfield. He’s not afraid to body people up. Contact doesn’t bother him.
“In the passing game, Junior is a hybrid receiver-tight end. He runs great controlled routes underneath and makes the tough catch in traffic. When we need to stretch the defense, we’ll throw him the ball vertically because he has a knack for getting open deep.
“Junior has a lot of upside. He’s a great weapon to have around. Size, speed and strength, he’s the total package. He’s going to make some coach at the next level very happy once he makes his choice about where he wants to spend the next four years of his life.’’
A decision about college, however, will have to wait.
The only thing Pomee & Co. are focused on is winning a title for Emil Smith. And the Mustangs will have the opportunity to accomplish their goal in next Friday's title game.
“We’ve come too far to turn back now,’’ Pomee said. “It’s going to be important for all of us to keep our composure in the title game because emotions will be running high. We’re going to come out with a mentality, an intensity, like no one has ever seen before.
“We know what’s at stake. We’ve been hoping that this time would come for us. Our mind-set is to go out and win every battle; Emil would’ve wanted things that way. We’re going to play our hearts out, believe that. This is our chance to win it all for our brother.’’
Whether that happens remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: Emil Smith’s memory lives on.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Salave’a was back on campus this weekend on an interview.
The Wildcats lost their main connection to Polynesian recruits when defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo left last week to take a position at Colorado.
(Related from TucsonCitizen.com: Ricky Hunley: ‘I would absolutely love’ to join Stoops’ coaching staff)
The Samoan-born Salave’a, who has two years of college coaching experience at San Jose State under Dick Tomey, is popular and well-known on the islands. He founded the Joe Salave’a Foundation in 2001, which, according to his former San Jose State bio, “specializes in free football clinics for youngsters in American Samoa and Hawaii.”
“Coach Tui did a heck of a job re-establishing that pipeline that was lost there for a while,” Salave’a told TucsonCitizen.com on Saturday night. “Knowing the culture, that’s very important. …
“That is one of the components of the program that needs to be continued and needs to be nourished.”
Salave’a, 35, had a nine-year NFL career after being picked in the fourth round of the 1998 draft by Tennessee. He joined Tomey, his former coach at Arizona, at San Jose State in 2008.
“In the course of my NFL career, I was doing my own camps through my foundation,” Salave’a said. “It was an easy transition as far as working with young people, but I wasn’t really sure that coaching was where I was going until Coach Tomey gave me the opportunity to go up there.
“I fell in love with the kids, and, of course, with Coach Tomey, you’re coming full circle and have a chance to pay it forward. It was great. … The experience of being mentored under him for two years was awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Salave’a was out of coaching this season. Sort of. He spent a month in training camp with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and his staff as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship.
Back in his home base of Las Vegas, Salave’a volunteered when he could with the football team at Liberty High School.
“I have two little ones and they started school this past fall, so daddy wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere in the country to find work,” Salave’a said.
“It was important that I stuck around and saw my kids go to school and go to teacher-parent conferences and all that stuff. I kind of helped out at a local high school, and when you do that, you kind of get revitalized.
“Now is a good time to get going as far as coaching is concern.”
Salave’a said that Stoops has not given him any timetable for the hiring decision. Stoops has two vacancies on his defensive staff; co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Greg Brown also left for Colorado.
Stoops told reporters on Friday he would be conducting interviews this weekend and next.
Salave’a said he has heard recently about job possibilities from a couple of other Pac-10 schools, but “you never want to go against your school.”
“When this thing came around,” he added, “it was like all that had never happened. I am always going to be looking for that opportunity to get back to this institution and this community that gave so much to me.
“I have a lot invested here. When you walk the halls, you see pictures of Tedy Bruschiand some of the game photos on the walls, and you’re right there as if it’s yesterday.”
As a player at Arizona, Salave’a was known for his determination and toughness, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 1996 and first-team honors in 1997. He originally had only three years of eligibility at Arizona because he was initially academically ineligible under NCAA Proposition 48.
But the NCAA later passed a ruling that allowed such student-athletes to regain that year of eligibility if they graduated in four years. Salave’a did and returned in 1997.
“To me, this is a personal thing,” he said of this job opportunity.
“Here is a program that gave me more than I gave it back. I’m more motivated in that regard to really contribute to the success of the program that Coach Stoops and the guys have established.”
Salave’a was scheduled to return to Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, and then he’ll wait to hear from Stoops.
“I’m happy they even thought highly enough of me to bring me in and visit with me,” Salave’a said.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
He took a break from gridiron action yesterday, however, to deliver a little holiday cheer to local children as they went Christmas shopping for their families.
Although Iupati, No. 77, doesn’t have any children of his own, yesterday he had three young boys look up to him for more than just being tall.
“He’s the best guy,” said Fabian Perdomo, 9, as he gave Iupati a big hug.
The 49ers have teamed up with Samaritan House and Visa to take children shopping during the holidays for four years now. The children participating in the annual event come from Samaritan House clients who are currently struggling to get by in the poor economy.
“Community service is extremely important to the 49ers throughout the year but during the holidays, it is particularly important for us to support those in need,” said Joanne Pasternack, the 49ers Foundation director.
Pasternack, a San Mateo resident, volunteered for Samaritan House when she was younger and linked the 49ers up with the nonprofit to help give back to the community.
Yesterday, 49ers players Josh Morgan, Nate Davis, Reggie Smith, Moran Norris, Nate Clements, Chris Maragos, Chilo Rachal and Manny Lawson joined Iupati in taking 36 children holiday shopping.
“The kids aren’t shopping for themselves,” Pastnernack said. “They get to spend the day with the players and then give the presents they buy to their families.”
Visa donated $250 gift cards to each child.
Iupati helped Perdomo, Jose Rouque and Andrew Vaihol with their shopping duties, although it was not always easy considering all the toys and other items from which to choose.
The boys discussed the merits of toys and games and how to play them with Iupati as they cruised Target.
They checked out boxing gloves and tennis racquets before ending up in the video game aisle.
Toys were not the only items being bought, though. The children were also buying clothes, baby items and even a blender.
But the 49ers do play football and wide receiver Josh Morgan could not avoid fielding questions about the team’s upcoming game with the Seattle Seahawks. Iupati also took time to sign some autographs for fans in between his time with the kids.
Iupati, 23, does not have his own children but does have two nephews and a niece he was inspired to shop for as he hung out with Perdomo, Rouque and Vaihol.
“I wish I had kids,” Iupati said with a smile.
Samaritan House is a nonprofit agency that provides food, shelter and job resources for those in need. It relies on donations from the public to implement its various programs. For more information visit www.samaritanhouse.com.