High School Sports

2014 SPSL 3A: Wager bodes well for both Peninsula and explosive defensive end

Major Ali never worked so hard for $5.

That’s what he earned for winning a friendly wager with Steve Levenseller, the offensive coordinator for the Peninsula High School football team, who said Ali couldn’t drop 20 pounds by the start of the season.

“I would’ve put my money on Major,” Peninsula coach Ross Filkins said. “That’s what you call a fool’s bet right there.”

And Levenseller knew that. He just wanted an insurance policy because he knew a lighter Ali — already the strongest on the team — could have the speed and explosion to take on a larger role in the Seahawks running game with first-team all-3A South Puget Sound League running back Avega Siolo gone.

Ali went from 210 pounds to 185 by the end of April — less than three months after making the bet with Levenseller.

“It wasn’t for the money. It was more for the pride,” Ali said. “I thought it would be kind of cool. And I wanted to prove them wrong, even though he said he knew I could do it.”

His weight he could change. Just not his height.

At 5-foot-7, Ali was a second-team all-league defensive lineman last year. He will play more defensive end than tackle this season because of the added explosion that came from dropping the weight.

His height is atypical of an all-league defensive end, a position saved for tall, long-armed athletes who can spike the quarterback’s pass at the line of scrimmage. But Ali makes up for his stature with strong arms and quick hands. He can bench 310 pounds twice and can do more power cleans at 250 pounds than anyone on the team (even though teammates say it’s because he doesn’t have to go as high).

The 2013 class started calling him “Five-Two” for his height. Somehow it stuck.

“Our sophomore year, they always called him ‘Five-Two,’ it was never Major,” quarterback Robert Kvinsland said. “Even if that’s shorter than he actually is. But even though he is so small, he is still such a dominant player. And he’s is such a great leader. He is basically the heart of our team.”

Ali said a lot of offensive lineman underestimate him for his size, “they want to look at me and think they’re just going to run right over because they are 6-foot-2, 280.”

If they do, they haven’t talked to Peninsula right tackle Hayden Smith.

“You have to grab onto him and hold on for dear life, that’s all I gotta say,” Smith said. “He’s got such strong legs that you can try to push him down, but it doesn’t work. And he’s got the fastest hands on the team, so you have to strike him first. You’ll be lucky to get him in the chest one time.”

And since Ali dropped the weight, Kvinsland said Ali has become the most explosive player he’s ever played with. That’s why the coaching staff is hoping to incorporate him into a greater role on offense this year after Ali spent most of last season as a blocking fullback in Peninsula’s second consecutive run to the Class 3A state quarterfinals (losing to 12-time state champion Bellevue both years).

“If you look at last year, I was really only a threat inside the tackles,” Ali said. “I could get outside, but now that I’m smaller I’m much faster and quicker, so I can be much more effective running to the outside.”

Levenseller wanted Ali to get down to 195 pounds before the season, though Ali did that and then some with four months to spare. He joined tight end Chance Stolz at CrossFit Gig Harbor four days a week and jumped on the Paleo Diet, consisting of low-carb, sugar free foods that are higher in healthy fats such as fish, chicken and steak.

The diet didn’t last long (he said he likes eating what he wants to eat) but it was evident he was much faster heading into fall camp.

“We knew that to have a shot to play tailback, we needed him to lean up and work on his mobility,” Filkins said. “He was a kid we could count on the past two years, but we wanted to be able to work on the quickness. So he really worked hard to lean up and he has improved dramatically. There’s no doubt about it.

“But he’s also a kid who likes to play physical football and that’s something I don’t think was lost.”

Not a bad deal for $5.