Rise up this morning Smile with the rising sun three little birds sit by my doorstep Singing sweet songs A melody pure and true Saying this is my message to you: Don't worry About a thing Cause every little thing Gonna be all right Bob Marley and the Wailers
Three of Buena High's bigger birds flocked to the practice field Monday to explain the success of their reggae running back, George Keiaho.
Keiaho, an always-smiling freshman from Fiji, set school records for carries (35) and rushing yardage (237) in Buena's 29-7 win over Dos Pueblos on Thursday. And who better to divulge the secret of his success than linemen Steve Sawyer, Pat Kelly, and Tim Bruton.
After all, they join Greg Lyle, Josh Calderon and Tom Hatch as the flock that sets the blocks for Keiaho (pronounced Kee-I-ho).
"We love blocking for George because he gets so excited," said Kelly, a 225-pound tackle. "He's so pumped when he gets back to the huddle, it's great.
"And because he's only a freshman, we protect him as much as we can."
They tease him even more.
Keiaho came to Ventura from Suva, the Fijian capital, and brought with him a suitcase full of reggae tunes.
"At home, in the car, and at school. I listen to it all the time," said Keiaho, whose easy-going nature and taste in music have generated a dedicated following from the Buena student body. "I even have a real picture of Bob Marley that my mom took a long time ago."
Another reason for Keiaho's popularity is his performance on the field. His effort Thursday eclipsed marks set by Tom Nance (34 carries in 1980) and Pat Fitzsimmons (204 yards in 1966).
Keiaho has earned a following among his teammates, who call him "Reggae" and "Rasta Man," among other nicknames.
"Our favorite is Milli Vanilli," said Bruton, a starting guard.
Keiaho takes it in stride. Albeit an extremely slow one.
"When we run laps, he's last," said Buena Coach Rick Scott, smiling and shaking his head. "When we're getting ready for a game, he's last. When we run onto the field, he's last."
Yet Keiaho set a precedent from the first time he stepped onto the field this season, becoming the first freshman to play varsity football at Buena. He was ineligible to play in Buena's first game because he was only 14, but he turned 15 on Sept. 8 and since has rushed for 972 yards. Paul Samples holds the school single-season rushing record of 1,274, set in 1971.
On Friday at Santa Barbara, he can become the first freshman in Southern Section history to gain 1,000 rushing yards.
"Right now, he's such a hot thing that each time he touches the ball, he could go the distance," Scott said.
Keiaho first went the distance five years ago, when his family moved to Ventura from Suva. His knowledge of football was limited to a game he saw on television when he was 8, and, until 1989, the only game he had played that was similar to organized football was rugby.
Thus, the Ventura Packers, a Pop Warner team, simply handed Keiaho the football last season and pointed him toward the goal line. At 5-feet-9 and 180 pounds, he crossed the line often.
"It was not unusual for him to score five or six touchdowns a game," said Ventura High Coach Harvey Kochel, whose son, Jake, played alongside Keiaho in the Packers' backfield.
Of course, things were not quite the same when Keiaho enrolled at Buena. Keiaho, now 194 pounds, said he was intimidated by the size of varsity players.
"Yeah, the first time he saw the guys cracking at each other, he was scared out of his mind," Sawyer said. "We tested him with some hits but realized he was here to stay."
Keiaho's moves left both the Bulldogs and their coaching staff stabbing at air.
"We had a coaches' meeting to see if he was that great, or if we were the worst tacklers in the world," Scott said. "We decided it was a little bit of both. He made some great moves, things that an athlete would do, and it was tough to turn him down."
Keiaho made the jump to varsity despite his limited experience.
"The line confused me the most," he said. "I didn't know what hole to run through, and I kept running into my blockers."
But Scott brought Keiaho along slowly, and, as the season has progressed, so has Keiaho's knowledge of Buena's running game. In the process, Keiaho's workload has gradually increased, from eight carries to last week's record of 35.
Keiaho's ability has even altered Scott's offensive philosophy.
"I've run maybe 12 trap plays in my seven years of head coaching, and we ran 12 last game," Scott said. "We even ran some option plays and Dos Pueblos couldn't stop us. Heck, as long as he stays healthy, we may never have to throw a pass again."
The soft-spoken Keiaho seems oblivious to such acclaim.
"He doesn't know how good he is and doesn't have a clue how good he could be," Scott said. "He's so quick, and so compact. He can run over defenders or run away from them."
And his linemen appear to be having as much fun as Keiaho.
"We know some day we'll be sitting around with our beer bellies, watching George on TV, knowing we helped him get 1,000 yards his freshman year," Kelly said.
And the Bulldogs can see former Crespi standout Russell White's all-time state record of 5,998 yards in the distance.
"He's going to be hard to stop," Kelly said. "Heck, he's already hard to stop."
But Keiaho, the freshman, is still the butt of jokes in the huddle.
"We call him Puppy Power because he's not quite a Bulldog yet," Bruton said. "Well, what is he, number four (in Buena history) for single-season rushing yards? Shoot, he's a Bulldog now."