It didn/t figure that Thomas Sua/s junior varsity football days at St. Joseph would last to the end of his sophomore season.
The Knights/ coaching staff promoted the 5-11, 200-pounder to the varsity squad during the ninth week of St. Joseph/s season.
“He played against Cabrillo and got in toward the end of the game,C said Mike Hartman, a St. Joseph assistant to Barney Eames then and the Knights/ head coach now.
“Five hundred-some odd carries and over 3,000 yards for his career later, he/s one of the top running backs in St. Joseph history.C
Sua is a senior now. Hartman just finished his second season as St. Joseph head coach. Under Hartman and his staff/s guidance, and Sua/s 1,361 yards rushing, the Knights won their first outright Los Padres League title ever with a 7-0 run this season.
St. Joseph bowed out in the CIF Northwest Division quarterfinals with a 47-32 loss to second-ranked Covina. Sua and Hartman helped lead the Knights to a 9-3 season.
For their accomplishments, Sua and Hartman are the Santa Maria Times/ All-Area Football Team Player and Coach of the Year respectively.
Among others, Hartman edged out Pioneer Valley/s Greg Dickinson. Dickinson led the Panthers to the Northwest Division quarterfinals and an 8-4 overall season. Dickinson finished his third year as the Panther program/s head coach. Pioneer Valley concluded its second varsity football season.
Sua, the 5-11, 200-pounder, has some speed, but his bulldozing style was what stood out most during an illustrious high school career. One tackler was rarely strong enough to bring him down.
“Teams tired of tackling him,C Hartman said. “By the fourth quarter, he would wear teams down. His longest runs often came in the fourth quarter.
“You might catch him, but you might not tackle himC.
Though St. Joseph went pretty far in 2006, “Yeah, we would have liked to go a little further,C Sua said in a recent phone interview.
“Our season/s still been pretty successful 7 undefeated league champs. We all worked real hard during the summer, and it kind of paid off. We came up a little short, though.C
The Times// All-Area Team includes LPL Offensive Linemen of the Year Drew Salazar of St. Joseph and Garrett Rodgers of Nipomo, and LPL Defensive Linemen of the Year Shawn Winters of St. Joseph and Justin Buchan of Pioneer Valley. All except Buchan, who is a junior, are seniors.
Seniors Adam Wilson of Righetti and Derrick Luken of Lompoc, the PAC-7 League Defensive Back and Defensive Lineman of the Year respectively, are on the All-Area Team.
The All-Area offensive line includes junior Korben Boaz of Nipomo; senior Tyler Vogt of Pioneer Valley; junior Steven Alurac of Righetti; and seniors Matt Smitley of Santa Ynez and Derek Ng of Arroyo Grande.
The quarterback is Santa Ynez senior Billy Peters. The running backs are seniors Julian Ortiz of Santa Maria and Reade Lobdill of Arroyo Grande. Juniors Billy Chambers of Nipomo and George Lopez of Arroyo Grande are the fullbacks. The wide receivers are senior Daniel Rudolph of St. Joseph and junior Diego DeMiranda of Pioneer Valley. The tight end is Righetti senior Todd Noel. The punters are seniors Mike Trujillo of Nipomo and Tim Ochoa of Lompoc. The kickers are John Wood of St. Joseph and Righetti/s Martin Luque, both seniors.
The All-Area defensive line includes St. Joseph sophomore John Sua, Thomas/ brother; Cabrillo senior Brian Lane; and Righetti senior Michael Meed.
The linebackers are seniors Tyler Kirchof of St. Joseph, Josh Vogt of Pioneer Valley and Sean McCuen of Arroyo Grande; and junior Jesse Aragon of Righetti.
Defensive backs include seniors C.J. Simmons of Cabrillo; Kyle McQuitty of Santa Ynez; Patrick Cusack and Joey Baldacchino of St. Joseph; and Matt Lynch of Arroyo Grande.
St. Joseph battled Covina well. The game at Bonita High School in La Verne was knotted at 32-all with just under seven minutes to play. The Colts, though, ultimately had too much of a passing attack for St. Joseph.
“That game against Covina was a different game,C said Hartman. “We talked about not giving up TDs in the fourth quarter, but that/s not always possible. But we talked about having the kind of offense that can wear teams down.
“Against Covina, we didn/t wear them down in the fourth quarter. That passing game is not something we/re used to seeing around here.C
Sua said, “None of the teams in this area pass like that. This is a run-first league.C
Still, “Our kids did a fantastic job this year,C said Hartman. “They kept working hard and responding to adversity.
“We had some adversity early in our schedule. We lost to Arroyo Grande and then Bishop Diego,C in the second and third games of the year after a season-opening victory.
“It would have been easy for the kids to go into the tank. The Pioneer Valley game, our first league game, was a very, very big game. The kids responded in the fourth quarter and got the job done.C
The Knights rallied for a 23-17 win.
Not far into their league season, the Knights had a particularly wrenching kind of adversity to deal with.
Junior quarterback Chase Sanders had been having a fine season. He contracted Hodgkin/s lymphoma and missed the rest of the season after St. Joseph/s second league game.
Sanders was a regular at team practices afterward, and his progress was an inspiration point for the Knights.
“It speaks to the character of the kids,C Hartman said. “They rallied around him.
“We talk a lot about someone on the team being someone in the family. That means when someone in the family is sick and needs our support, we take care of him.C
Hartman said, “We try to teach these kids that there are more important things than football. We/re proud of the kids for showing a maturity with dealing with things a lot of kids don/t have to deal with.
“Luckily for me, I didn/t have to deal with something like that when I was playing.C Hartman played football at Baltimore County High School in Maryland, then played football and wrestled for Carlton College, a Division III school in Minnesota.
Though he wasn/t sure where Sua stood on St. Joseph/s all-time lists, “He/s probably in the top three in carries,C said Hartman. “I/m not sure where he stands yardage-wise.
“Pat Cusack Sr. is our all-time rushing leader. He played at Notre Dame. Ali Azziz, our second-leading rusher all-time, played at UCLA.C All-Area team member Patrick is Pat Cusack Sr./s son. The younger Cusack plays for the Knights/ basketball team now.
Sua said he improved at cutting off blocks as his career went along. He praised his offensive line, including “John Sua, my brother.C Besides his fine work on defense, John Sua was a St. Joseph regular at quick tackle.
Mainly, Hartman said, he and the other St. Joseph coaches let Thomas Sua be Thomas Sua.
“We worked with him on things - cutting off blocks, getting outside. But you don/t overcoach Thomas.
“You know the saying - if it isn/t broke, don/t fix it. Thomas is a very instinctual runner. We just let him do his thing; he has a very special type of talent. It was not anything I did that made Thomas the player he is on the field.C
Sua built on his youth football playing days and wound up with a fabulous prep career. Now, the college search is on for him.
“Nothing newsworthy yet,C in that regard, Hartman said. “We/re sending out tape.C
Sua has been on St. Joseph/s track and field team before and intends to be on it again.
“I usually do field events. This year, I might try sprinting events. We/ll see what happens there.C
As for a college or university, “I/ll go to any place that will take me.C
Dec. 19, 2006