In the first quarter of Lakes High School football games, opponents come in for tackles on sophomore running back Devon Nofoa-Masoe with energy.
By the fourth quarter? Most of them are just trying to push the 6-foot-1, 205-pound back out of bounds.
“You have to make the opponent feel you first,” Nofoa-Masoe said. “You make the opponent feel you first, and most likely, next time, they won’t want to come heads up with you.”
That unrelenting, physical nature is one of the many things longtime Lakes coach Dave Miller admires about his star sophomore, who leads the team in rushing yards through three games (258 yards and five touchdowns on just 22 carries), is second on the team in receiving yards (158 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions) and as a linebacker on the defense (second on the team in tackles with 12).
Ask Miller about Nofoa-Masoe and his eyes light up. The only issue is, he doesn’t know where to begin with his praise.
“He does everything well,” Miller said. “His football IQ is off the charts. Just the ability to do the little things well, be physical, be explosive. His competitiveness. He’s probably the most fundamentally sound football player that I’ve ever coached.”
Miller said that Nofoa-Masoe — who figures to be a national recruit by the time he’s a junior, if not sooner — is further along in his development as a sophomore than any of the five NFL players he’s coached in Zach Banner, Jermaine Kearse, Reggie Williams, Rocky McIntosh and Hillary Butler.
“Last year, as a freshman, he was probably one of the best freshmen I’ve ever had,” Miller said. “Most freshmen — some of them are talented — but they hit a wall after a week or two. They just can’t handle the whole season. He never hit that wall. He never faltered. He gets better every day. It’s just exciting. He’s 15 years old. How big is he going to get? How fast is he going to get?”
In Lakes’ 60-7 win over the Stadium Tigers last week, Nofoa-Masoe racked up five touchdowns on offense — four rushing and one receiving. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and the slot makes him a weapon for junior quarterback Justin Brennan.
“He’s very detailed,” Brennan said. “He goes hard every play. You won’t see a play that he doesn’t. He’s always running hard, giving his max effort, doing everything he can to help the team.”
Miller said Nofoa-Masoe might be the best receiver on the team, even though his primary role on the offense is at running back.
“The position he plays, there’s a lot of years when you don’t have a guy who can do both,” Miller said. “He can just go right out in the slot, and he’s probably our best receiver. He has great hands, runs great routes. He’s a great slot receiver. It’s a 200-pound missile coming at you.”
That versatility is a big reason why Nofoa-Masoe will be a highly sought-after recruit, and a reason he’s such a valuable asset to the Lancers’ roster. He plays running back, receiver, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, safety. In the offseason, he trains with other corners. Heck, Miller wouldn’t even be opposed to putting him under center.
“You can put him anywhere,” Miller said. “He knows the details of every position.”
Of all the natural ability and football IQ Nofoa-Masoe has, his best attribute in the eyes of his coaches and teammates might be his humility. Asked about his 11.7 yards per carry average, Nofoa-Masoe immediately deflected credit.
“Just following my blocks, just doing what Coach Miller is teaching us,” he said. “I couldn’t do that without the line, so props to the line.”
And while that type of statement can often be cliche, with Nofoa-Masoe, it’s not a canned response.
“It’s sincere,” Miller said. “It’s not like some high school kids, where they’re saying what their coach tells them to say. He’s probably the best teammate you’d ever want. He’s a great kid.”
Miller said he sees Nofoa-Masoe playing defense at the next level, and figures he’ll add another 20 or 30 pounds to his frame before his high school career is over. As for his potential, the sky’s the limit.
“I don’t see (a ceiling),” Miller said. “Just with his attitude being so good, his ability to stay humble and stay hungry and just his work ethic, I think he can be as good as he wants to be. I see some Ray Maualuga in him. That’s who he reminds me of. A little bit of Troy Polamalu. Just that kind of intensity and competitiveness. He’s one of the most fun kids to coach, and he’s out here every day getting better.”
Nofoa-Masoe expects the college offers to start rolling in soon. Through everything, he’s keeping a level head.
“My dad always tells me to stay humble,” Nofoa-Masoe said. “I just want to thank the Lord. I wouldn’t be able to do this without him.”