Sports

How much better can Menlo-Atherton's football team get?

 
Defensive tackle/running back Noa Ngalu (6-2, 290) has offers from Utah and Washington. He's a junior. Photo by Bob Dahlberg.

After the best season in program history, what's next? Where do you go following a historic breakthrough?

The Menlo-Atherton football team won Peninsula Athletic League, Central Coast Section and Northern California championships last season.

The future looks even brighter.

The team's achievement brought about heightened attention from the media, the public and from college recruiters.

The team's linemen -- the foundation for both offensive and defensive success -- have received increased scrutiny from talent evaluators with positive results. Five players from the M-A defensive front seven have received Division I college offers.

Center/defensive lineman Ben Makoni (6-3, 300) has received an offer from Utah; Defensive end/tight end Dimitri Sakalia (6-3, 240) from Utah and Utah State; Linebacker Kilifi Leaaetoa (6-1, 220), a transfer from The King's Academy, from Hawaii, San Jose State, Sacramento State, Idaho and Montana State.

Two juniors have also already received offers: Inside linebacker/running back Daniel Heimuli (6-2, 215) from Utah State and defensive tackle/running back Noa Ngalu (6-2, 290) from Utah and Washington.

"This is an exciting thing for our program's development,'' Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. "These kids have put in the work. They are a big part of what we're trying to do, on the field and in the classroom.''

Ngalu was a full-time starter on the defensive line last year as a sophomore. Then in the spring he placed fourth in the discus at the CCS finals, just missing a trip to the state meet, without the spin technique employed by all other entrants, utilizing brute strength and athleticism alone.

Ravipati plans on using him at running back as well as on the line this season.

Sakalia, a one-time triple jumper, is described as "super-athletic.''

"He's got a great first step, a long frame and a high motor,'' Ravipati said. "A real athletic, physical kid.''

The program's depth was such that Heimuli stayed on the junior varsity team the bulk of last season. He was brought up to the varsity for the playoffs and had a monster game against Milpitas in the CCS semifinals.

"A dynamic athlete with a future at linebacker,'' Ravipati said.

Running back Jordan Mims and quarterback Aajon Johnson got most of the headlines last year after putting up huge numbers. Mims is now at Fresno State and Johnson at College of San Mateo. But their replacements have a leg up on success with this group of linemen providing a foundation.

And the college-bound fivesome is only part of an incredibly deep group of linemen in the program. Of the 49 players on the varsity, 21 are linemen.

Other players expected to get significant playing time on that front seven include junior David Tafuna (6-0, 243), Alifeleti Malupo (6-1, 250) and Palo Alto transfer Moala Tautuaa (6-1, 310).

Miles Conrad, who shared time with Johnson at the start of last season at quarterback, will step in as the starting signal caller.

There is a committee of candidates competing to replace Mims at running back, a group that includes Samson Motuliki and Serra transfer Deston Hawkins along with Malupo, Heimuli and Leaaetoa.

"We have the talent and ability to do what last year's team did,'' Ravipati said. "But we'll have to work for it.''

The coach is particularly high on newcomer Troy Franklin (6-2, 165), a freshman who will start at wide receiver.

"He has a chance to be a big-time player, an impact player,'' Ravipati said.

One of the highlights of the offseason was a ring ceremony in which all members of last season's team received rings to commemorate their achievement.

"A little obnoxious, but they're what the kids wanted,'' Ravipati said.

It's well publicized the rings given to World Series-winning teams. But high school football teams?

Ravipati said it's not that unusual.

"Serra did it,'' said Ravipati, who is beginning his third year as head coach. "Sacred Heart Prep did it the years they made the state finals. It's become more of a norm with football. Even the first year when we (tied) for the league championship the kids wanted rings."

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