Niu Sale "makes things happen. He really loves to be out there. Even in practice he gives 100%. In practice we let him go live to give our ends a true look, and they can't get a hand on him."
Bishop Montgomery coach
Size has always helped in football, but it isn't compulsory. A decade ago 5-foot-7 Archie Griffin won Heisman Trophy bookends at Ohio State. Last year Lionel (Little Train) James, the smallest man in the National Football League at 5-foot-6, set a record for total yardage.
So don't try to tell South Bay high school followers that heavyweights rule the roost.
This season, several of the area's most remarkable players are under 5-foot-10:
- Bishop Montgomery junior quarterback Niu Sale, perhaps the most exciting junior in the CIF, can skip merrily through walls of huge linemen without having a finger laid on him.
- Miraleste running back Mike Silane leads the South Bay in rushing and normally plays nearly every minute of every game.
- Banning tailback Archie Jean has no noticeable weakness. The South Bay's leading scorer, though he has played only 3 1/2 games, Jean has scored touchdowns nearly every way imaginable.
- Junior Erik Craig gives Redondo a breakaway threat for the first time in years.
- And Gardena defensive back Sang Pak earned all-league honors as a junior in one of the toughest leagues in California, often taking on players who outweigh him by than 100 pounds.
So what makes these guys so tough?
"Niu is definitely a big little man," Bishop Montgomery Coach Andy Szabatura says of the 5-9, 170-pound junior. Last year as a 5-7 sophomore Sale made all-league as a defensive back. He can dunk a basketball with two hands. But basketball isn't on the agenda right now.
With Sale's innate running ability, Szabatura decided to install an option offense around him. In all but one game, Sale has looked like the second coming of Jamelle Holieway, the Banning High quarterback wizard now operating at Oklahoma. "He loves Jamelle Holieway," Szabatura said. "He makes things happen. He really loves to be out there. Even in practice he gives 100%. In practice we let him go live to give our ends a true look, and they can't get a hand on him."
They're not the only ones. He has scored nine touchdowns, including a 60-yarder against San Pedro and a 79-yarder against South Torrance. The only team that has shut down the little Samoan is Carson, and in that game he had a 40-yard burst called back. Szabatura estimates Sale has lost more than 300 rushing yards because of penalties on his young line.
"He has a tendency now to take off because he knows he can run," Szabatura said. "We're working on his passing. He's got a strong arm; he's just young at quarterback." Last week he scored three touchdowns and passed for another against winless Rolling Hills.
If Sale has a weakness, it's turnovers--common in an option attack. But Szabatura has no plans to shift Sale to running back with Angeles League play starting. "My gut reaction is you let your best athlete handle the ball," the coach said.
Chances are Sale will grow, perhaps considerably. Brother Ken was an all-star 230-pound linebacker last season.
There's not much doubt who will handle the ball when Miraleste takes the field. Silane, 5-6, 160 pounds, will rush 25 to 30 times, return kicks and play defensive back. Last week he returned an interception for a touchdown and scored two others rushing to give him nine in five games. He also went over the 800-yard mark for the season.
Despite his size, Silane is primarily a straight-ahead runner who is surprisingly effective running inside and breaking tackles. How does he do it? "Heart, that's probably it," Miraleste Coach Gary Kimbrell said. "I've probably had backs with more talent but I've never had any who work as hard, in practice or games. He really has only one speed. He doesn't know what pace is. He's also got good quickness and he's real explosive off the ball. He's going full speed right off the bat--that's the reason he breaks a lot of tackles."
Silane's size will probably keep the major colleges from recruiting him, but Kimbrell says his two-year star--he led the South Bay in scoring as a junior--is a prospect. "He could get faster and beefier. He can play somewhere," Kimbrell said.
Archie Jean can probably play anywhere. The latest in the line of Banning star running backs is somewhat more compact than his predecessors at 5-8, 170, but every bit as versatile. A wide receiver as a junior, Jean was switched to the backfield to take advantage of his running ability. Coach Chris Ferragamo says Jean's pass-catching ability gives his backfield an extra dimension. Jean also returns kicks.
"He can do a lot. He can catch, shift gears well, read blocks well. He's another Walter Payton," Ferragamo said.