If concern existed that the Auburn High football team lacked leadership entering the 2012 season, it ended in a stack of cell phones at the first team meeting in June.
Senior-to-be Kevin Shelton ordered every player in the room to place their phones on a table before the coaches walked in.
“We don’t need any distractions,” Shelton said he told his teammates. “It’s time to focus. It’s football time. Our season starts now.”
Leadership was absent a year ago when the Trojans – perennial contenders in the SPSL North – labored to a 4-6 record and missed the Class 4A state playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Shelton, the youngest of five children raised by a stern mother, is eager to fill the void.
“Last season, we lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter,” said Shelton, citing the team’s five losses by a touchdown or less. “No one stepped up to lead us. By the end of the year, our egos were crushed.
“As a junior, it was hard to be the guy to set down the law. But now I’m comfortable doing that.”
Shelton, one of the premier players in the South Sound at tight end and defensive end, possesses a maturity level that belies his youth. His iron-fisted mother, Oneone, put forth an orderly path for him and his siblings to follow, predicated on hard work, faith and family. And no one dared stray very far from it.
“She’s a very strong woman of God, and I give her all the credit for pointing me in the right direction,” said Shelton, whose father was rarely in his life (he died two years ago). “Growing up, anytime I made a mistake, she would sit me down, look me in the eye and say, ‘Don’t do that again.’
“And then I’d lose my TV and PlayStation for a week.”
Shelton, who works at a fast-food restaurant on weekends to help support his mother, also received guidance from his older brothers – Tui, Shennon and Danny – who preceded him as football standouts at Auburn. Danny, a first-team all-state lineman for the Trojans two years ago, is now playing at the University of Washington.
It was Tui who told Kevin to never doubt his abilities and potential as an athlete and a man. Shennon urged him to gaze into the future and to set career goals. Danny shared his love for music and taught him to play the ukulele.
All of them urged Kevin to excel in the classroom, where he carries a 3.8 grade-point average.
They’re a typical Samoan family, heavily leaning on one another, their extended family and their religious beliefs. But their world suffered an unthinkable calamity on May 1, 2011 when Shennon Shelton was shot and killed outside a home in Auburn during a neighborhood dispute.
According to police reports, Shennon had come to the aid of Tui, who had been called on to break up a street fight between two families not related to the Sheltons. Tui was shot and seriously wounded.
“It’s been real hard,” said Kevin Shelton, who witnessed the shooting. “The pain has never gone away. How could it?”
Part of Shennon Shelton’s legacy was his optimistic nature and constant encouragement of others.
One could see those traits in Kevin Shelton at Auburn’s first day of practice last week.
“How many did you get?” he excitedly asked a teammate who had just emerged from the weight room during preseason testing. When told that the skinny sophomore had hoisted 165 pounds in the bench press only twice, Shelton exclaimed, “Hey, good job! You’ll get there.”
Shelton will anchor the Trojans’ defense. He was a first-team all-league outside linebacker last season – as well as honorable mention all-SPSL North at tight end – but has since been moved to defensive end.
“It’s a more physical position in our defense, and it’s probably where he’ll play in college,” Auburn coach Gordon Elliott said. “He’s a strong, physical kid who has a good feel for the game. He’s a man out there.”
Shelton is a man just about everywhere. And he didn’t reach his 17th birthday until last month.
On the Throne
Kentlake is the defending champion, but Kentwood has the track record – and emerges in a close race.
In the Spotlight
A unique blend of power and fluidity, Kentlake running back Nu’u Vaifale is an NCAA Division I talent.
Change is Good
To make better usage of quarterback Shane Nelson, Tahoma scrapped its split-back multiple attack for the spread offense.
By the Numbers
Kent-Meridian’s Cartez Green is the division’s top returning receiver (34 catches) and kickoff returner (30 attempts, TD).
Kentwood (8-3 last season), Kentlake (10-1), Tahoma (6-4), Auburn (4-6), Kentridge (4-6), Auburn Riverside (4-6), Jefferson (5-5), Kent-Meridian (1-9), Mount Rainier (1-9).
Mark the Date
Oct. 25: Kentwood at Kentlake, French Field, 7 p.m.
SPSL NORTH FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Coach: Gordon Elliott, 11th year
2011 record: 4-6, 7th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Gordon Elliott (fly sweep). Returning starters – 5. Top players – QB Brier Atkinson, 6-1, 180, jr.; RB Darnell Hagans, 5-5, 160, sr.; RB Harold Lee, 5-10, 165, sr.; TE Demontra McNealy, 6-3, 235, sr.; OL Cayman Tinsley, 6-1, 270, sr.; TE Kevin Shelton, 6-3, 243, sr.; OL Katorii White, 6-2, 315, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Kjel Kiilsgaard (3-4). Returning starters – 6. Top players – DL Leroy Arnold, 5-8, 240, sr.; DB Darnell Hagans, 5-5, 160, sr.; DB Harold Lee, 5-10, 165, sr.; LB Demontra McNealy, 6-3, 235, sr.; LB Seth Mizoguchi, 5-10, 170, sr.; LB T.J. Muao, 6-2, 180, sr.; DL Kevin Shelton, 6-3, 243, sr.
Outlook: Until last season, Auburn had been a model of consistency in the SPSL, advancing to the playoffs eight consecutive seasons, including 4A quarterfinals appearances from 2008-10. Elliott said he believes a much sturdier senior class will help the Trojans win the close games they lost a year ago – Auburn lost five games by a touchdown or less.
AUBURN RIVERSIDE RAVENS
Coach: Bob Morgan, sixth year
2011 record: 4-6, 6th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Richard Bigelow (pistol). Returning starters – 4. Top players – RB Skyler Harris, 5-11, 190, sr.; OL Shaun Meehan, 6-3, 280, jr.; OL Joe Miles, 6-4, 270, sr.; QB Kevin Thomson, 6-1, 175, jr.; WR Drew Wallen, 6-1, 180, jr.; OL Larkin Williams, 6-0, 288, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Bob Morgan (4-2-5). Returning starters – 2 . Top players – LB Salvador Greer, 5-11, 180, sr.; LB Skyler Harris, 5-11, 190, sr.; DL Shaun Meehan, 6-3, 280, jr.; DL Joe Miles, 6-4, 270, sr.; DB Michael Robinson, 6-2, 170, sr.
Outlook: Miles, Meehan and Williams should open holes in the offensive line. Question is, who from an inexperienced backfield will run through them. Thomson moves up from junior varsity to take the controls at quarterback, while Harris – a converted lineman – could emerge as Auburn Riverside’s leading rusher.
Coach: Dean Peck, sixth year
2011 record: 5-5, 4th in league; lost in 4A districts.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Dean Peck (spread/wildcat). Returning starters – 4. Top players – OL Michael Burt, 6-2, 230, sr.; WR Phillip Cuadros, 6-0, 160, jr.; QB Niko DelaCruz, 6-0, 175, jr.; WR Kyle Dougherty, 6-0, 170, sr.; WR Paul Pinkney, 6-1, 170, sr.; OL Dabrian Taylor, 6-2, 230, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Scott Morgan (4-3). Returning starters – 4. Top players – DB Kyle Dougherty, 6-0, 170, sr.; DB Niko DelaCruz, 6-0, 175, jr.; DL Geoff Lucas, 5-11, 175, sr.; LB Shane Seumae, 5-10, 250, jr.
Outlook: A big challenge is replacing the production of do-everything quarterback K.W. Williams, now at Idaho State. The Raiders believe they’ve found a capable replacement in DelaCruz, the starting tailback in 2011 who has shown Jefferson coaches to be a more accurate passer than Williams. Concern is on both lines with only one returner.
Coach: Chris Paulson, third year
2011 record: 10-1, 1st in league; lost in 4A first round.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jeff Glessner (pistol spread option). Returning starters – 7. Top players – QB Steffin Church, 6-1, 195, sr.; OL Tyler Deskins, 6-4, 270, sr.; OL Mason Johnson, 6-3, 315, jr.; RB Caleb Mathena, 6-0, 190, sr.; RB Nu’u Vaifale, 6-0, 225, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Manase Hopoi (3-3). Returning starters – 4 . Top players – LB Steffin Church, 6-1, 195, sr.; DL Mason Johnson, 6-3, 315, jr.; DB Caleb Mathena, 6-0, 190, sr.; LB Nu’u Vaifale, 6-0, 225, sr.
Outlook: Back-to-back state playoff appearances, a 17-4 record – Kentlake has had it rolling the past two seasons, and that trend should continue. Church is one of the division’s top dual threats (772 yards passing, 334 rushing in 2011), and Johnson – a road-grading blocker – opened eyes at the Boise State camp with 400-pound bench press.
Coach: Brett Allen, third year
2011 record: 1-9, 8th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Andy Romine (shotgun). Returning starters – 5. Top players – QB Quincy Carter, 6-1, 180, jr.; TE Timmy Cordova, 6-1, 195, sr.; WR Cartez Green, 5-7, 160, sr.; RB Thomas Kemp, 5-6, 180, sr.; WR Dion Leung, 5-7, 160, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Brett Allen (3-4). Returning starters – 6. Top players – DB Randall Cooper, 5-9, 165, sr.; DB Avery Hammond, 5-11, 175, sr.; LB Thomas Kemp, 5-6, 180, sr.; LB Vinnie Malietufa, 5-8, 190, so.; DB Kevin Merrill, 5-7, 160, sr.; DL Quandrell Powell, 5-9, 250, sr.; LB Sai Ta’amu, 5-7, 175, so.
Outlook: This is what Allen has been waiting for – these sophomore and freshman classes to hit high school. The underclassmen have enjoyed plenty of success at younger levels, and surely will be key in turning around the Royals’ culture. Malietufa and Ta’amu, both sophomores, should be prominent contributors at linebacker.
Coach: Marty Osborn, 22nd year
2011 record: 4-6, 5th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jeff Shumake (spread). Returning starters – 5. Top players – WR Danny Allen, 5-10, 165, sr.; OL Tyler Bailey, 6-3, 320, sr.; RB Derrick Bell, 5-10, 185, jr.; RB Jimmie Davis, 5-10, 175, sr.; WR Kevin Hall, 6-2, 187, sr.; OL Riley Poulson, 5-10, 215, sr.; QB Sam Smith, 6-3, 195, jr.
Defense: Coordinators (set) – David Fowler and Nick Bartoli (4-3). Returning starters – 5. Top players – DB Derrick Bell, 5-10, 185, jr.; DB Jimmie Davis, 5-10, 175, sr.; DB Kevin Hall, 6-2, 187, sr.; DL Travis McGuire, 6-1, 195, sr.; LB Riley Poulson, 5-10, 215, sr.
Outlook: With all these athletes, it is hard to fathom that it has been nearly a decade since the Chargers have been to the state playoffs. Davis is a both-ways blur, possibly the fastest player in the SPSL. But Kentridge needs Smith, who played tight end last season, to contribute immediately at quarterback. Poulson is the defense’s undisputed leader.
Coach: Rex Norris, ninth year
2011 record: 8-3, 2nd in league; lost in 4A first round.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Melvin Wells (pro I). Returning starters – 6. Top players – RB Tim Angevine, 6-0, 205, jr.; RB Ryan Dozier, 6-0, 205, sr.; OL Cozelle Gooding, 5-11, 240, sr.; WR Terence Grady, 6-4, 170, jr.; QB Dane Hernandez-Manio, 5-11, 180, sr.; WR Jackson Huerta, 6-0, 180, sr.; RB Chance Kalua-Fuimaono, 5-10, 200, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Rex Norris (3-4). Returning starters – 5. Top players – LB Tim Angevine, 6-0, 205, jr.; LB Ryan Dozier, 6-0, 205, sr.; DL Cozelle Gooding, 5-11, 240, sr.; LB Terence Grady, 6-4, 170, jr.; DB Dane Hernandez-Manio, 5-11, 180, sr.; DB Jackson Huerta, 6-0, 180, sr.; LB Chance Kalua-Fuimaono, 5-10, 200, sr.
Outlook: The Conquerors have two league titles and six runner-up finishes in eight years under Norris – and appear headed for a top-two spot again. Hernandez-Manio is a three-year starter at quarterback, and Dozier and Kalua-Fuimaono form what could be the league’s top linebacking tandem.
MOUNT RAINIER RAMS
Coach: Tremain Mack, first year
2011 record: 1-9, 9th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Ben Reindel (spread). Returning starters – 7. Top players – RB Amani Brown, 5-9, 215, jr.; OL Hudson Homimer, 6-3, 258, jr.; OL Alofa Loto, 6-2, 232, sr.; OL Leuea Loto, 6-0, 270, so.; TE Alex Metros, 6-1, 200, so.; OL Justyn Pomele, 6-2, 226, sr.; QB Logan Wagner, 6-3, 195, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Tremain Mack (3-4). Returning starters – 7. Top players – DB Amani Brown, 5-9, 215, jr.; DL Hudson Homimer, 6-3, 258, jr.; DL Alofa Loto, 6-2, 332, sr.; DL Leuea Loto, 6-0, 270, so.; LB Alex Metros, 6-1, 200, so.; DB Donovan Moi (5-9, 184, sr.); LB Justyn Pomele, 6-2, 226, sr.
Outlook: With four different coaches in as many years, Mount Rainier hopes Mack can stabilize the program. He coordinated a Rams defense that started as many as five ninth-graders last season – including Brown, who led the team in tackles last season and looks to be an emerging star. Offense is led by Wagner, a three-year starter.
Coach: Tony Davis, 19th year
2011 record: 6-4, 3rd in league; lost in 4A districts.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Chris Williams (spread). Returning starters – 6. Top players – OL Coby Abel, 6-3, 246, sr.; OL Eric Brothers, 6-0, 286, sr.; OL Dallas Hayes, 6-2, 295, sr.; QB Shane Nelson, 6-1, 167, jr.; WR Patrick Ota, 5-7, 157, sr.; RB Jerome Woods, 5-8, 167, so.; OL Aaron Vaughn, 6-3, 235, jr.; WR Deshon Williams, 6-3, 190, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Curtis Bogan (4-3). Returning starters – 5. Top players – DL Cody Abel, 6-3, 246, sr.; DB Damon Funk, 5-11, 192, sr.; DL Dallas Hayes, 6-2, 295, sr.; DB Joey Lutton, 6-1, 169, sr.; LB Brooks Miller, 5-11, 187, jr.; LB Elijah Suka, 6-0, 224, jr.; DB Deshon Williams, 6-3, 190, jr.
Outlook: Coming off a state-playoff appearance, the Bears are one year older – and should be even better. Nelson led the division in passing (1,684 yads, 12 TDs) as a sophomore, and is one of the state’s top underclassman quarterbacks. And Tahoma should be able to protect him with Abel, Brothers and Hayes, all returning starters.Don Hunt, contributing writer