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HE'S GOT A NAME TUIASOSOPO SERVES AS A.V. SIGNAL CALLER.

Byline: Ramona Shelburne Staff Writer

Sometimes it seems Ronaiah Tuiasosopo knows what you're thinking before you even have a chance to ask the question.

``Everybody asks about that,'' he said. ``I'd play in basketball tournaments and people would see `Tuiasosopo' on the roster and they'd come up to me and ask, `Tuiasosopo, aren't you supposed to be a football player or something?' ''

With a cousin, Marques, in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders; his father, Titus, a star lineman and tight end at USC; his uncle, Manu - Marques' father, who played in the NFL with the 49ers and the Seahawks; and another cousin, Zach, playing for the University of Washington, Antelope Valley's sophomore quarterback Ronaiah Tuiasosopo has a big name to live up to.

Until last fall, he was making his name as a basketball player.

``It's the funniest thing,'' he said. ``I never had thought of playing football when I was younger. I grew up playing basketball.

``Then freshman year, I came out for football and the coach told me to throw the ball. I did and I must've done OK because he turns to me and says, 'You're going to be our quarterback.' ''

And so another Tuiasosopo began his football career in auspicious fashion. Teammates and coaches can't stop raving about his potential and natural ability.

``Trust me, he can do it,'' senior wide receiver Randy Burton said. ``He's got all the ability. ... When he first came to our school, I knew he was going to be the one to do it for us. I was shocked when I found out he'd only been playing for two years.''

The only thing he lacks, Burton said, is experience.

In practice, Tuiasosopo looks like a star. He has a strong arm, but can also throw with a soft touch. He's poised, possessing leadership skills well beyond those of a typical sophomore. He doesn't run like his older cousin Marques does, but he's learning.

But when it comes to games, he can look like a sophomore, which is a tough position to be in when you have a senior-laden team counting on you to run its offense.

``At first I was really nervous, I had so much pressure,'' he said. ``It felt like everything was in a rush. It didn't matter if I messed up, I just wanted to get it over with. But I've come to learn if you take it play-by- play, breathe and relax, you'll get the hang of it.

``But everyone on the team has been really cool with me. I want to do it for them, for the seniors especially. And I'm learning that my job is to just manage the offense so I'm slowly building confidence in myself.''

Tuiasosopo said he's leaned heavily on another cousin to help him get through the challenge of quarterbacking Antelope Valley as just a sophomore.

His cousin, Conan Amituanai, is a senior tight end/defensive tackle at Long Beach Poly.

``He's been my biggest inspiration,'' Tuiasosopo said.

Amituanai lost his mother, Aima, when he was in junior high. Aima Amituanai, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's aunt, passed away Jan 1, 2001, after collapsing while walking out of the Rose Bowl. Marques had just won the MVP award as Washington beat Purdue 34-24.

``It was really hard. But it brought the whole family together,'' Ronaiah Tuiasosopo said. ``I'm really close to my cousin, Conan, we talk every day. He's been my biggest inspiration. Despite the fact that his mom passed away, he's continued to succeed and excel.''

Tuiasosopo said he's also close with Marques, Matt (a top prospect in the Mariners' organization) and Zach, but because that side of the family lives in Washington, he doesn't see them as much.

``I love my cousins and all, but I don't just want to be known as Marques' little cousin,'' he said. ``I want to do something, achieve something on my own.''

Ramona Shelburne, (818) 713-3617

ramona.shelburne(at)dailynews.com

THE GAME OF WEEK

LOYOLA of L.A. (3-0) at ANTELOPE VALLEY (2-1)

7 p.m.

Key stat: 11-2-1

Loyola's all-time record against Antelope Valley.

Outlook: The history of this rivalry has diminished some in the past two years with the retirement of longtime coaches Brent Newcomb, who retired after the 2003 season after 34 years at Antelope Valley, and Steve Grady, who retired after the 2004 season after 29 years at Loyola. Still, for two schools from such different areas, the rivalry remains fierce.

Both programs have gotten off to a good start, even though Loyola has faced only one significant challenge - a 28-13 victory over City Section contender Venice in Week 2. Loyola senior RB Chad Peppars is the key to the Cubs' offense. Peppars has rushed for 272 yards on just 32 carries (8.5-yard average) and five touchdowns.

Antelope Valley's defense has been solid and ranks among the area's best but its offense has yet to get untracked despite the presence of big-play threats RB Andre Chrenshaw, WR D'Andre Goodwin and WR/TE Randy Burton.

Antelope Valley will be without leading tackler, senior LB Allan Mohan, who was suspended after receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in last week's 14-0 victory over Silverado.

TODAY'S GAMES

KNIGHT (2-2) at PALMDALE (0-3)

7 p.m.

Key stat: 121

Points allowed by Palmdale in 11 games last season. The Falcons have already allowed 98 points in three games this year.

Outlook: Not many expected Knight High, in its first full season of varsity play, to have a better record coming into this game than Palmdale, the three-time defending Golden League champion.

Palmdale's offense, with WR Tyreace House (218 yards receiving, 147 yards rushing) and RB Dominic Blood (157 yards), is still dangerous as any team in the area, but its defense, which suffered heavy losses to graduation and the loss of longtime defensive coordinator Steve Lockhart, to Eastside High, has struggled.

LANCASTER (3-1) at QUARTZ HILL (2-1)

7 p.m.

Key stat: 25

Points allowed by Lancaster in the three games since its 28-14 loss to Orange Lutheran on Sept. 3.

Outlook: It's never too early to talk playoff implications, and this game is loaded with them. Quartz Hill has finished fourth in the Golden League each of the past two seasons and needs a win over one of the top three teams (Lancaster, Antelope Valley or Palmdale) to jump up a spot and earn a playoff berth.

Lancaster has league title aspirations after finishing second last year to Palmdale. The Eagles are the most consistent team in the area. Senior RBs Josh Gaines (303 yards rushing, 2 TDs) and Tony Jackson (333 yards, 5 TDs) make a potent one-two punch in the backfield.

LITTLEROCK (2-2) at HIGHLAND (1-3)

7 p.m.

Key stat: 585

Rushing yards by Highland senior RB Micah Littlejohn this year.

Outlook: Both teams were humbled last week after strong starts to the year. Highland suffered its worst loss of the year, a 28-9 road loss to Inglewood while Littlerock was shut out, 21-0, at home by Alemany.

Highland has been able to move the ball effectively, albeit only with its ground game, in every game behind Littlejohn. Littlerock and QB LaMont Jordan, have looked good at times this year, but haven't shown consistency.

KILPATRICK of Malibu (0-3) vs. PARACLETE (1-2)

Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Quartz Hill High

Outlook: With several key players injured or unavailable, senior receiver/defensive back Garrett James' athleticism and versatility figure to be vital for Paraclete, which looks rebound from two consecutive lopsided losses in a final tuning for Olympic League play. The Spirits will be without injured senior linebacker Chris Winkler (concussion) and standout two senior two-way lineman Jake Dean won't play due to a wedding he will attend. Injured senior running back/defensive back Joel Medina (ankle) is questionable. James is the backup quarterback and can play every skill position, including running back.

VASQUEZ (4-0) vs. BELL-JEFF of Burbank (0-2)

Saturday at 7 p.m. at Burroughs High of Burbank

Outlook: If not for a scheduling change, Vasquez would be playing tonight for what would have at least tied the state record for most wins in a calendar month. Led by junior quarterback Joe Perez (36 for 56, 546 yards, five touchdowns, 198 rushing yards), the Mustangs are off to their best start in school history and are coming off a thrilling 14-13 victory over Rosamond. Bell-Jeff defeated Vasquez 22-18 last season on its way to a 9-2 overall record.

BLAIR of Pasadena (0-3) at ROSAMOND (1-2)

7 p.m.

Outlook: Led by tight end/linebacker Eric Leon (10 receptions, 161 yards, four touchdowns, 57 tackles), running back Spencer Rodney (94.7 yards per game) and quarterback Nicholas Gutierrez (27 for 60, 356 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions), Rosamond has held its own in close games against some formidable competition, with both losses coming by just one point. The Roadrunners are heavily favored against a Blair team that's been outscored by 80 points and is coming off a 40-6 loss to Marshall of Pasadena.

CAPTION(S):

photo, 4 boxes

Photo:

Until last fall, Antelope Valley quarterback Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had been more successful on the basketball court.

Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) GAME OF THE WEEK (see text)

(2) TODAY'S GAMES (see text)

(3) FIRST AND 10

(4) INSIDE THE NUMBERS
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 30, 2005
Words:1551
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