If Chavez Kalua-Fuimaono were to own a Chevrolet vehicle, he says he’d go with a Malibu.
So be it. But his teammates call him “Chevy” not only because it’s easier than saying his full name, but because he hits defenders like a Silverado.
His 5-foot-10, 190-pound stature might not seem so intimidating. Maybe it’s his scowl, the ferociousness with which he runs or the nickname that makes him look much bigger.
“You see him in full gear in pads you think, ‘Man, this dude might run me over,’ ” junior backup running back Mason Glover said. “And that’s happened plenty of times.”
Kalua-Fuimaono is the top returning rusher from the 4A South Puget Sound League, gaining 662 yards on 110 carries last year. He was actually Kentwood’s backup running back to Isaiah Williams, who is now at Central Washington University.
That was the same when he was a sophomore, though he still ran for 488 yards that year. He and Williams were the perfect complement with Kalua-Fuimaono’s strength and Williams’ speed.
“I looked up to Isaiah a lot,” Kalua-Fuimaono said. “But this is my year. It’s my time to step up.”
Kentwood needs that if it plans to win three consecutive league titles, especially now that it is a member of the Cascade division of 4A North Puget Sound League.
It will need more of those runs he had his sophomore year, when he broke through six Tahoma tacklers, including three at one time, before a fourth jumped on and finally brought his churning legs to a halt. That, he said, is his favorite play.
“I honestly feel like he’s our Marshawn Lynch,” second-year Kentwood coach Mike Bush said. “The first guy who hits him is not taking him down. He bounces off players — plays we think he’s going down, he finds a way to keep chugging and get us two or three more yards.
“If he gets hit in the backfield, he bounces out and gets us four yards. He’s that type of guy.”
He separated his shoulder in Kentwood’s 16-13 win over Federal Way last year. He missed two games, but came back and played in the regular-season finale against Todd Beamer and in the district playoff loss to Woodinville.
A scar marks his right shoulder where he had surgery in March. He hasn’t participated in contact drills during practice, and though he said he feels healthy, Bush said Kalua-Fuimaono will be limited for at least the first three games of the season.
Kalua-Fuimaono is the youngest of his four brothers, Chance, Chasen, Chaz and Chavis. All played sports and Chavez said their father instilled competitiveness in them from a young age. He was born in Nanakuli on the island of Oahu in Hawaii before moving to Tillamook, Oregon, and eventually landing in Washington in 2004.
“When you think about Chavez, you think about all his brothers,” said Christian Duenas-Palaita, who is Kalua-Fuimaono’s cousin and a senior fullback and linebacker for Kentwood. “I remember everything we always did with them was, ‘Who is the fastest? Who is the strongest? Who can jump the farthest?’ When one of them was in the sixth grade, the next one who was in the sixth grade had to beat their marks. So everything with them was just competing.”
Maybe it’s because he’s the youngest sibling, or maybe because he had taken a backseat to the elder Williams in Kentwood’s backfield, but Kalua-Fuiamono’s play has always been louder than his words.
“A lot of people perceive him as being a big mean dude,” Glover said. “But off the field, he’s the most loving guy. He’ll pick you up in any situation. I just follow his footsteps. I look up to him.”
None of Kalua-Fuiamono’s family went on to play college football after high school. His goal is to be the first.
Bush was an all-Pac-10 selection in both football and basketball at Washington State University. He said Kalua-Fuimaono will be playing next year.
“At what level, I don’t know,” Bush said. “But he is definitely going to be playing somewhere.”
The Conks’ football program has never endured a losing season since the school opened in 1981. But this year, Kentwood will have one returning defensive starter and three on offense.
Kalua-Fuimaono isn’t just interested in adding another winning season. Kentwood has lost their first postseason game each of the past three years.
“We talked about it all offseason — what we need to do as a team, as brothers and as one unit, moving forward,” Kalua-Fuimaono said. “We talked about what the past years did and why they weren’t successful. So I think we’re looking to build off of what our previous brothers were able to do and what they weren’t.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677