We've had the year of the running back, the year of the linebacker, the year of the bomb, the year of the blitz and the year of the rookie.
Welcome to the year of the Samoan quarterback in South Bay high school football.
At Carson, the focal point of what should be a potent attack is ambidextrous quarterback George Malauulu. The two-year starter helped Carson to the City 4-A championship last year, and when his left elbow was hyper-extended, it barely slowed the southpaw. He simply threw right-handed.
At Bishop Montgomery, the question on everyone's lips is "What's Niu?" A year ago, the question wasn't whether veer quarterback Niu Sale would break a long run but when he would--and if his line would manage to not get a penalty and nullify a long gain. This season, with a more experienced line and a year of experience running the option, Sale should be a more effective, even more dangerous, quarterback.
And for dreamers, there's always the thought that both could well be playing together. They grew up together, played Pop Warner football and pickup sports together and talked about playing together at Carson.
But Sale, following two older athletic brothers, went to Bishop Montgomery, a parochial school in Torrance. For his freshman year, so did Malauulu. But the pull of Carson was too great and he switched to his neighborhood school as a sophomore, leaving his friend behind.
Since then the two, though vastly different as football players, have had similar careers. Both were installed as veer option quarterbacks who, despite tough luck as juniors, are considered college prospects.
Bishop Montgomery Coach Andy Szabatura considered the mythical pairing and said, "There's no doubt if (Malauulu) was here with Niu I'd be sitting like a fat cat."
Malauulu, the two-way slinger, had the luxury as a junior of handing off to Alvin Goree and Calvin Holmes, the most prolific ground-gaining backfield in Carson's 25-year history. Still, Malauulu was impressive until injuring his elbow, which forced him into a part-time role and often saw him throw right-handed, which he can do accurately but not with the distance he gets left-handed. A varsity baseball player as well, Malauulu throws a baseball right-handed.
As a junior, Malauulu completed 27 of 57 passes for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns. He added 120 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing.
Malauulu, a soft-spoken 6-foot, 180-pounds, has spent the off-season strengthening his left arm and looked impressive in summer passing leagues. Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle said all of his skills will be showcased this season--including ambidextrous passing.
"I like the idea of sprinting right, throwing right, sprinting left, throwing left," the veteran Carson coach said. "He's much better this year throwing right-handed."
"We'll keep the defense guessing," Malauulu said.
More than the novelty of the two-way thrower, Vollnogle likes the overall quarterbacking skills and leadership Malauulu exhibits. "He's got a leadership quality about him. He's got a confidence about him that oozes out to the players," Vollnogle said. "They know the ball will get there--and at the right time. He's a very humble kid, but when he gets in that huddle you know he's in command.
"He can (throw deep) and he has good touch on the ball. He has the ability to see the entire field. He has good (field) vision, more so than most high school quarterbacks. He just has a natural talent. And he's more than adequate as a runner. He's very elusive and reads the option well. If you're a defense, you better not let him loose. He'll put it in the end zone."
Malauulu reminds Vollnogle of another Samoan quarterback, former Carson star Samoa Samoa, who went on to college stardom. Vollnogle said Malauulu "is not as tall but he's ambidextrous like him--he compares very well."
If Sale compares to anyone, it might be former Banning option star Jamelle Holieway, now a star at Oklahoma. His moves as a runner out of the option make Sale the most exciting running quarterback in the South Bay since Holieway. It remains to be seen what he can accomplish if surrounded with adequate talent.
As a junior, playing quarterback for the first time--he made all-league as a sophomore defensive back--Sale rushed for 1,056 yards and passed for 1,100. A mercurial runner with 4.55 speed, Sale would scamper at a moment's notice. Often the 5-10, 180-pounder would disappear into a mass of huge linemen and burst through moments later untouched--moves that Malauulu call "Niu's transactions through the defense." But just as often, he would confuse his inexperienced line and see a long gain nullified by a penalty.
Bishop Montgomery's Szabatura said his team averaged more than 100 yards in penalties last season, wiping out perhaps 500 yards in gains by Sale. "Last year he would turn a sack into a 30-yard gain," Szabatura said. "But there were times he was his own worst enemy, trying to do too much. Sometimes it's better to take that sack."