Grant line worth its weight

Matautia (400 pounds) and friends pushing young Pacers toward another playoff berth

10/17/2013 12:00 AM

10/18/2013 6:47 PM

By any measure, this is one large, lumbering lot.

Every player on Grant High School's offensive line makes scales wince. The field shakes when they pull and block downfield. Each passes the proverbial eye test of, "Oh my." And no one misses a meal.

"We let the mascot go first when the linemen run out onto the field for games, carrying a pork chop," Grant coach Mike Alberghini joked. "The linemen look quick chasing him."

It's also a hungry group in another sense. Anchoring the youngest team in Alberghini's 23 years at Grant, the line is clearing the way to the program's ongoing Sac-Joaquin Section-record 23rd consecutive playoff berth. None of the current starters on the line played on the varsity team last season and had to learn daily amid a rigorous schedule.

The left side of the line alone weighs 720 pounds, headed by senior guard Shawn Matautia, who stands 6-foot-4 in size-17 cleats and weighs 400 pounds. Junior tackle Darrin Paulo is 6-6 and 320. Grant coaches say Paulo looks like a refrigerator, only much more agile.

Senior center Errick Dennis is 6-3 and 300 pounds, sophomore right tackle Soape Tupou is 6-4, 300, and junior right guard Charles Bell is the lightweight at 5-11, 240.

None of the Pacers' three rotating tight ends could be called tiny.

In a big man's game, opponents have had a big problem dealing with Grant's size, and the line has the attention of its opponents.

"That's a great line, the biggest one in California, and I'm talking USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, 49ers, Raiders," said Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere, whose Trojans overcame the Pacers' line to beat Grant 20-17 last month.

Said Chris Nixon, whose Bee No. 2-ranked Thundering Herd (6-0, 1-0 Delta Valley Conference) hosts No. 7 Grant (4-2, 1-0) in Elk Grove on Friday: "I've never seen a line as big as Grant's. They are enormous, and they have pretty quick feet. We are going to be giving up about 200 pounds a man with our defensive line. We are the Lilliputians and they are the Giants."

Together 24-7 in the summer

Matautia said being the biggest kid in his middle school was a lonely existence. He was withdrawn, uncomfortable with his size.

"I was too overweight to play youth football, and it feels like I've been 6-3 most of my life," Matautia said. "I just wanted to play so bad. I was 6-3, 400 as a seventh-grader and very shy."

Football allowed a happy Matautia to emerge.

"Football changed me, let my personality come out," Matautia said. "I'm with other big guys now. But I still had to wait two weeks as a freshman for a helmet. My head was too big. I had to cut my hair to get it on."

The hair is back, and then some. Matautia has a shock of long blondish locks that snake out of the back of his helmet, making him look all the more menacing. Grant line coaches Clint Baier and Devan Cunningham rave about Matautia's desire and improvement. An honors student, Matautia dreams of studying engineering in college.

"He just never quits, wants so bad to be a good player," Baier said.

Paulo also craved football while missing his freshman and sophomore seasons because of knee injuries. Still, he set a school record in the discus with a toss of 169 feet, 6 inches last spring. He might have thrown 30 more feet but chose not to spin in the cage to protect his knees.

Now healthy, Paulo has had dominating moments on the field.

"He's so serious, works so hard that I didn't see him smile until after we beat Burbank, when he had a good game," Baier said.

Said Paulo this week: "I'm happy just to be playing and being out there. I feel like I've come a long way and so has our line. I'm proud of all of them."

Paulo said the Pacers' line came together after spending the summer together.

"It was 24-7 time," Paulo said. "We talked a lot; we worked out. And we definitely ate together."

And who's the best eater of the group?

"It's coach Baier," Paulo said. "We can't keep up."

Despite playing only six games, Paulo has received recruiting interest throughout the Pacific-12 Conference and nationally. His brother, Darryl, plays at Washington State.

Growing large

Grant was a football power in the 1980s, but it didn't feature linemen of the size it does now. The Pacers rarely had a 300-pounder in that decade.

But with an influx of Polynesian families moving into Del Paso Heights in the late '80s, sons grew into Pacers players. Some are playing in college on scholarship, including 2010 Bee Defensive Players of the Year Vei Moala and Puka Lopa, now at Cal. Those lines helped elevate Grant to a new level. The Pacers under Alberghini since 1991 have won 234 games, 13 league championships, six section titles and a state crown.

"We've had some really big lines over the years and some really good players," said Alberghini, who envies Paulo's height and Matautia's hair. "Considering I don't have any hair, it'd be nice to one day use a comb. With hair like Shawn's, I'd drive a convertible with the top down and do a little speeding to let it veer out.

"Kids like Shawn make coaching fun because you can see what football has done for him, a great human being. It's not easy being that big, but he gives you more than he has."

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD, check out his PrepsPlus Insider every Monday at blogs.sacbee.com/preps and listen to his "Extra Point" every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.

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