Under Sefo Liufau’s watch, the ship never goes down.
Of course, that is a bit of an exaggerated allegory. Liufau has never been a brave-faced, seven-seas sailor — but plays one for the Bellarmine Prep football team. He is the starting quarterback, and is vying to bring the local private Catholic school its first state football championship.
As much for the things he does off the field as what he does on it — values that do not show up in a statistics ledger — Liufau has been selected The News Tribune’s 2012 All-Area football player of the year.
The numbers make him worthy: During his 37 career games as a starter, Liufau has passed for 6,799 yards and 63 touchdowns. He has rushed for another 566 yards and 17 scores.
Even with a new starting tailback (Lou Millie), and a transfer No. 1 receiving target (Garrett McKay), Liufau has put together his best season as a senior — completing
154 of his 226 passes for 2,020 yards and 19 touchdowns.
And his record as a three-year starter? 33-4 as the Lions prepare for their Class 4A state semifinal game Saturday against Auburn.
There is so much more to this soft-spoken, kind-hearted, too-good-to-be-true leader of the Lions. He plays for team goals before individual, even though his skill set rivals that of Skyline High’s Max Browne and King’s High’s Billy Green — two quarterbacks who post ridiculous numbers in passer-friendly offenses.
He greatly respects others — his coaches, teammates and opponents — as well as what life throws at him. That comes from being the oldest of three siblings in a traditional Somoan household where his father, Joe, is retired from the U.S. Army.
He is both disciplined and patient — a direct byproduct of having both a special-needs brother and sister who suffer from various disabilities.
And his love, thirst and passion to absorb information, to communicate that to teammates — and to produce winning results — seem unquenchable. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder will take all of that to the University of Colorado on a full-ride scholarship starting next fall.
“You know, the leadership is both God-given and also from the way my dad raised me — always telling me to pick my teammates up, to always be there for them and have a positive attitude,” Liufau said. “I am always upbeat, I always try and bring teammates up and I never look down at a circumstance.”
His father thinks the heavy learning started in Jensen Gymnasium on the base at Fort Lewis. As a youth, Liufau used to be a ballboy for his father’s athletic teams, but graduated to being a basketball team member as a sixth grader — playing against grown soldiers.
“Some of the soldiers would tell me, ‘Man, you got a good one (son) there,’ ” Joe Liufau said. “They would teach him, and he would listen. That is where his leadership came from.”
From Visitation Catholic in South Tacoma, Sefo Liufau enrolled at Bellarmine Prep in 2009. He spent his ninth-grade season running the veer offense on the freshman team, then turned out for varsity basketball.
That winter, the Lions hired Brian Jensen as their new offensive coordinator. The former Curtis High and Central Washington quarterback had been at Bellarmine Prep once before, but left for a while to coach in college.
“The thing I was most impressed with was Sefo’s eagerness to learn, and his maturity,” Jensen said. “And he wasn’t just memorizing stuff — he was learning it. He would take something from the film room and immediately apply it on the field. That is rare. There are guys like that. But most quarterbacks are repetition-type guys, and need to do it that way before they can really see it.”
In his first season, Liufau threw for 2,526 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading the Lions to the 4A semifinals before losing to Ferris.
As Liufau grew in operating Jensen’s pro-style offense — one that demands a run-pass balance — the Lions began taking off, winning back-to-back Narrows League 4A titles, and reaching the state playoff in each of the quarterback’s three seasons.
“What he does for his team on a daily basis — solid leadership and his unselfishness — you can tell his team respects him by the way it plays around him,” Lakes High School coach Dave Miller said. “He is a high-character kid. His experience is unbelievable. And Brian has helped him take his game to a whole new level.”
Every time Joe Liufau thinks about a story Millie’s mother relayed to him a year ago, it makes him laugh. It also reinforces the kind of unquestioned leader his son has become in the Bellarmine Prep huddle.
“There was a game when Michael Rector (now at Stanford) was dehydrated and cramping up,” Joe Liufau said. “West (O’Brien) runs into the huddle. It was his first time being on the field, and he was nervous.
“Sefo turns to him and says, ‘Just like practice, West! Run your route and look for the ball.’ He called the play, and made West feel he had been in the huddle all season.
“Lou went home that night and told his mom it was like something seen in a movie.”
If there were ever two qualities that define Sefo Liufau’s legacy at Bellarmine Prep, they would be calmness and confidence. He has been the rock of the program. Think of him as the wily captain of his ship.
“I feel like being a great leader is what I want to be remembered as — not for the stats or all the wins, but someone who has been there for all of his teammates, kicking them in the butt when I needed to, but also someone who fought for them until the end,” Liufau said.
Quarterback, 6-2, 210, sr.
SPSL 3A player of the year not only was team’s best dual threat, he was also a consummate leader for the league champion Seahawks. Numbers weren’t eye-popping (106-159, 1,374 yards, 21 total TDs), but his 165.4 passer rating was among area’s best.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Most people focus on the turkey – we’re all football.”
Running back, 5-10, 180, jr.
Who knew? In 2011, he broke his leg in the first game – and missed the entire season. This season, he collected all-SPSL South honors (162 carries, 1,329 yards, a league-high 24 TDs) as a power-running tailback who scored in every game.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “My family doesn’t have a big family dinner.”
Running back, 5-11, 205, sr.
Took his first varsity carry 80 yards for a touchdown last season and has not stopped since. Rushed for school-record 2,224 yards and 28 touchdowns as the state’s regular-season rushing leader, and was named the Narrows 3A Most Valuable Player.
What makes Thanksgiving special: Family “jams and sings” with ukulele or guitar.
Running back, 5-8, 155, so.
Every time he had the football in his hands, opposing coordinators cringed. Why? In eight games, 10 of his 14 touchdowns (third-most in the SPSL) were on plays of 30 yards or longer, including three punt returns (64, 73 and 40 yards). Top prospect for 2015.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Just seeing all of my family and friends.”
Wide receiver, 5-9, 170, sr.
A terror on the edge of the field, Dawson was utilized on screen passes, fade patterns and reverse runs to get the Eagles big yardage. The Portland State-bound wide receiver (27 catches, 613 yards, three TDs) was selected to the SPSL South first team.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Sometimes we substitute chicken instead of turkey.”
Wide receiver, 6-3, 175, sr.
When J’Maka Love moved to quarterback, Eckwood immediately became the top big-play target in the Abes’ passing game (52 catches, 881 yards, 11 TDs). The All-Narrows 3A wide receiver scored touchdowns in seven of nine games.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We bring all of my family to one house and spend time together.”
Wide receiver, 5-11, 185, sr.
The two-time SPSL 2A player of the year is the complete package. Sure, he caught a lot of passes (44 receptions, 719 yards, eight TDs), but equally impressive was his downfield blocking. Being recruited by Eastern Washington and Montana.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We all cook the food together as a family, then we sit down and eat.”
Offensive line, 6-3, 230, sr.
While he had plenty of help on a fantastic line — Cox was the left tackle for a rushing attack that has averaged nearly 300 yards per game. A very athletic blocker with a great pad level, he is getting interest from Portland State, Montana State and Idaho State.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “My whole family gets together.”
Charles Wright Academy
Offensive line, 6-4, 325, jr.
With his massive size, the Tarriers plugged him in at center because they needed a stronger presence against odd fronts who could also handle quicker nose guards. The Gig Harbor transfer immediately gave them what they asked for with 15 pancake blocks.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Being with my crazy family. I love them.”
Offensive line, 6-3, 305, sr.
He’s a real tempo-setter on one of Class 4A’s most complete offensive lines. The two-time All-Narrows left guard not only establishes physicality, his core strength — aided by his club water-polo play — allows him to quickly change direction to make blocks.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We open our door to lots of families.”
Offensive line, 5-11, 260, sr.
Coach John Robak called him the Sentinels’ “made-of-steel captain.” A three-year starter at right guard, he pulled or trap-blocked a lot as Spanaway Lake rushed for 264 yards per game this season. He was an All-SPSL South performer on both sides of the ball.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We get to eat all that we want.”
All-purpose, 5-11, 175, sr.
The EvCo player of the year was a game-changer on offense (845 yards, 10 TDs), defense (a school-record 100-yard interception return for a score) and on special teams in particular (five returns for TDs, including a school-record 96-yard punt return).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Spending time with my family and friends, and having a good time.”
Kicker, 6-0, 200, jr.
He broke the SPSL record for field goals made (12), eclipsing the 11 made by Bethel’s Brandon Bailey in 2009. But he was more than a kicker – he was an ironman. Also the starting center, he did not miss one play this season.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Each year, I travel to Wenatchee to be with all of my extended family.”
All-Area player of the year
Quarterback, 6-4, 225, sr.
He has been the leader of the area’s most consistent football program over the past three seasons, compiling a 33-4 record as the starting quarterback. And even with a newer supporting cast, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, who is headed to Colorado, has put together his finest season (120 of 176 passes, 1,660 yards, 16 TDs, one interception). In fact, the Narrows 4A player of the year’s season passer rating of 126.1 is No. 4 behind Federal Way’s Evan Elliott (146.6), Washington’s Jordan Mezias (129.0) and Kentlake’s Steffin Church (127.7).
BECKETT CORDES, left, and MARCUS YZAGUIRRE
All-Area co-offensive coordinators
These were the guys designing plays that blew away SPSL defenses. Cordes, in his seventh season at the school, was once a tailback at the University of Minnesota-Morris. He coordinated the Eagles’ ground game. Every tailback he has worked with has signed a college scholarship out of high school. Yzaguirre, in his sixth season at Federal Way, is the passing-game coordinator and calls plays from the sideline. He is a graduate of Washington State University. Under their guidance, the Eagles led the area in scoring average (47.2 points) and yards-per-play (9.1 yards).
QB: Steffin Church, Kentlake, sr. RB: Zeek McNeal, Federal Way, sr.; Brandon Pritchett, Clover Park, sr.; Kai Van Sickle, Capital, sr. WR: Caleb Lyons, Lakes, jr.; Garrett McKay, Bellarmine Prep, jr.; Mike Tate, Federal Way, sr. OL: Ben Buma, Capital, sr.; Lucas Hatton, Eatonville, sr.; Dallas Hayes, Tahoma, sr.; Treshon Long, North Thurston, jr. TE: Mason Tobeck, Cascade Christian, so. AP: Spencer Crump, Timberline, sr. PK: Matthew Philichi, Bellarmine Prep, so. JAIMIE BRYANT
Defensive line, 6-5, 260, sr.
He shed 25 pounds, picked up explosiveness, and ended up resembling the line-of-scrimmage terror he was in 2010, only better – 58 tackles, six tackles for loss, INT return for a TD. Unanimous 2A EvCo defensive MVP, he is headed to UW.
What makes Thanksgiving special: Bryant did not respond.
Charles Wright Academy
Defensive line, 6-9, 265, sr.
With his long arms and wiry leverage, he was a natural pass rusher (38 tackles, six sacks) for the Tarriers. And the Ivy League recruit also blocked three kicks. The all-Nisqually performer helped deliver the school’s first league title since 1989.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We get a neighborhood football game going around noon.”
Defensive line, 6-4, 245, so.
The Lancers’ next great star is in the making. But unlike his brother, Sione (now at UW), this younger Potoa’e is lean and fast at defensive end. Despite facing double teams, he tied for most sacks in SPSL 3A (five).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “We have four turkeys cooked every year.”
Defensive line, 6-3, 245, sr.
Moving to defensive end was no problem for Shelton, who was not only the leader of the SPSL 4A North’s top defense (250.8 yards a game), but he also was voted as the division’s lineman of the year (34 tackles, seven tackles for loss).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “My close family all being together in one house and not being able to move because there’s so many people.”
Linebacker, 6-2, 235, sr.
Gentle and soft-spoken off the field – when the lights come on, so does his unmatched competitive fire. Amid a group of explosive home-run threats, Havili was the steady rock – and was named SPSL 4A South linebacker of the year.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Having the house full of family, and the day being noisy with little kids causing chaos.”
Linebacker, 6-3, 245, jr.
In one word – nasty. Offenses never could get the Spartans’ captain out of position from his middle linebacker spot, and he responded with an SPSL 2A-best 109 tackles, including 10 for loss. Named the league’s defensive player of the year.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Being Samoan, we have a very large family so we have lots and lots of food.”
Linebacker, 6-1, 210, sr.
A middle linebacker Dick Butkus would be proud of, Wetzel led the Blazers to their first Narrows 3A title in three seasons, and was voted the league defensive MVP for a second consecutive year (103 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, five INTs).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “It’s so special because you get to have a real family sit-down with everyone.”
Defensive back, 5-10, 190, sr.
For a second consecutive season, the Vikings’ star was named an all-SPSL South performer on offense and defense. And even though he played hurt, he still was a lockdown cornerback (23 tackles, four INTs; rushed for 952 yards, nine TDs).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “I eat so much during the day that by dinner time, I’m not extremely hungry.”
Defensive back, 6-0, 200, sr.
What a career the Nisqually 1A player of the year put together. The three-time, first-team defensive back picked off four passes, giving him 15 for his career. And at quarterback, he passed for 1,071 yards and 18 TDs, leading Eatonville to the divisional title.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “My mom has a rather large family, so it’s pretty crazy to get everyone together.”
Defensive back, 5-10, 185, sr.
As dynamic a player as there is in the SPSL 4A North, he had nine takeaways at cornerback for the Conquerors, including five interceptions. And the division’s all-purpose player of the year returned two punts for TDs.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Play football in the morning, eat all day and watch football.”
Defensive back, 5-9, 160, sr.
This speedster scored in every way possible – rushing (585 yards, eight TDs), receiving (two TDs), special-teams returns (two TDs), and interception returns (SPSL-record three TDs) en route to SPSL 4A North defensive back of the year honors.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “Eat food all day and watch football with my family.”
Defensive back, 5-10, 185, sr.
The lone returning All-Area selection, he leaves Yelm with 15 school records. He made a bigger impact at running back (1,686 yards, 25 TDs; Narrows 3A offensive MVP) but still was a force on defense (79 tackles, four forced fumbles).
What makes Thanksgiving special: “The cooking of my aunt and my grandma.”
Punter, 6-3, 180, sr.
The former soccer player excelled in just his second season of football, leading the SPSL 3A in punting average (41.3 yards a punt) and field goals made (nine), and is on the Kohl’s Kicking Camp prospects watch list.
What makes Thanksgiving special: “My family is one of a kind.”
All-Area defensive coordinator
A former all-conference linebacker at the University of Puget Sound (1994), he guided the third-ranked scoring defense (11.7 points a game) in Class 3A this season. And he did it with keen schematic disguises while routinely rotating up to 20 players on that side of the ball. In the final seven games of the season, the Seahawks held their opponents to season lows in scoring, and totaled 28 takeaways.
Charles Wright Academy
All-Area coach of the year
The Nisqually League had been Cascade Christian’s domain – until this season, when the Finch-led Tarriers stole the show and won their first league championship since 1989. Taking over the head coaching position in 2008, the former Wilson High and Harvard University defensive back has posted a 20-7 record the past three seasons – including an undefeated 8-0 mark during the regular season in 2012. The 29-year-old is married with two children, and serves as his neighborhood’s designated dog walker.
DL: Gerald Goldwire, Lakes, sr.; Caleb McGary, Fife, jr.; Daniel Portillo, Peninsula, sr.; Peau Seigafo, Lincoln, sr. LB: Calvin Chandler, Bellarmine Prep, sr.; Ryan Dozier, Kentwood, sr.; Jake Ferris, Wilson, sr.; Jordan Leech, Steilacoom, sr. DB: Bryce Broome, South Kitsap, sr.; Mitch Fettig, Olympia, jr.; D’Londo Tucker, Federal Way, sr.; Jaysen Yoro, Orting, jr. P: Logan Stegner, Spanaway Lake, sr.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/preps/ @ManyHatsMilles