LAKEWOOD, Wash. - Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes High School head coach Dave Miller should be getting used to these by now. He's seen four of his players be selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in eight years, including three in the past two seasons. First was former University of Washington standout receiver and first round NFL draft pick Reggie Williams in 2001, then last season saw a couple more Huskies, tight end Kavario Middleton and wideout Jermaine Kearse don the Army jersey. Now another Lakes star and Husky commit joins the group as defensive tackle Sione Potoae officially accepted his Army All-American invite Thursday afternoon.
"It's a great honor nationwide to be one of the top players in the country and he's very deserving," explained a proud coach Miller. "He's the most dominant lineman I have coached in 25 years, he's just so explosive, strong and athletic. He could probably play running back for us if we needed him to, he's that athletic."
Rated the No. 12 defensive tackle in the nation, Potoae has been nearly unstoppable in high school. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound mauler is a matchup nightmare with his strength and quickness in such a big body. He's been so impressive that a usually even keeled coach Miller isn't shy about projecting just how far Potoae's talent can take him.
"Whether it's double teams or triple teams he's just unblockable up front. I think he has the ability to go into Washington and play right away as a true freshman with both his physical and mental ability," Miller exclaimed. "No question he'll play in the NFL. If the good Lord is willing and he stays healthy, I don't think there is any question he has that kind of ability."
College coaches won't argue and that's why he's continued to pile up offers from schools like California, UCLA and USC even after committing to the University of Washington. But for Potoae and his family, this game is about something more than accolades or even future fame and fortunes. His father, U.S. Army E-7 Staff Sergeant Aleki Potoae has been stationed in Iraq and will return their after a short stint in America Samoa.
"My dad has been in the Army and the Army has been a lot of help to the world," said Potoae. "This is such an honor to play for the Army and that is how I see it. This is for my Dad and everyone that is in Iraq and I'm going to do my best to represent."
He doesn't get to speak with his father often enough, but Sione makes sure to write him a letter every day. But he did get a welcomed surprise just last Thursday when Aleki was able to phone his son on the way to Somoa.
"Last Thursday he called me on the phone before leaving to Samoa to help with the hurricane relief. It was very nice to hear his voice and it warmed me because I hadn't heard it for a while."
Potoae's father hasn't been able to watch him play a high school football game in nearly a year. That could change if all goes according to plan and Aleki is able to touch home Friday afternoon before deploying back to Iraq.
"He might get to see me play this Friday," said an excited Potoae. "He's trying to fly in from Samoa before he has to leave again for Iraq on Saturday. If not he'll get to watch me play in the Army game."
It's a good thing too, because Aleki was the one who introduced weight training and football to his son.
"I started growing after my dad introduced me to the weight room around the eighth grade," said Potoae. "It became my hobby and it all started from there."
But his introduction to football didn't come until later.
"My first real season of football wasn't until the ninth grade," he continued. "I just saw all of these other kids who were successful with football and I thought I could achieve the same thing they did. I just worked hard in the weight room and hard in the classroom and my dream is coming true."
Because of hard work combined with natural talent his dream is indeed coming true. But it didn't always appear to be his destiny and Potoae certainly wasn't always the biggest kid in his class. In fact, his is first position on a football field was quarterback but that doesn't surprise coach Miller one bit.
"As a freshman you could just see the athleticism and feet for a big man," he explained. "You could see his intensity, his tenacity and his speed for a guy his size. The kind is 280 and runs a 4.8 forty and benches 425. But a lot of kids have the athletic ability, but he loves the weight room, he's a good student, very coachable, and unselfish. He's the total package."
Potoae will take the field on January 9, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas with a heavy heart and father Aleki on his mind. It's a lot to ask of a high school kid, but if anyone can deal with the emotions it is Potoae.