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Buena Delivers a 1-2 Punch

Sharing tailback spot, Keiaho and Blackledge have combined for 1,397 yards and 16 touchdowns.


VENTURA — Freddy Keiaho's given name is 20 letters long and he'll expound upon its meaning in an instant.

D.J. Blackledge goes only by initials and his sentences are similarly concise.

Together, they spell trouble for opponents of the Buena High football team.

Considered a favorite to repeat as Channel League champion, Buena stumbled to a 2-3 record in nonleague play, lowering expectations. But the Bulldogs (5-4) rallied to finish league play 3-1 and have captured a share of the league title entering their nonleague game tonight at Oxnard.

Keiaho and Blackledge, first-year varsity players, have contributed to Buena's success primarily by alternating at tailback.

"They're the bottom line of our whole team," quarterback Kyle Loughman said. "Without them, we wouldn't have our wins."

Keiaho, a sophomore who several months ago was better known as the brother of former tailback George Keiaho of Buena, has rushed for 676 yards and eight touchdowns.

Blackledge, a junior, has run for 721 yards and eight touchdowns. Each player is averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry.

Despite their similar statistics--Keiaho and Blackledge each rushed for more than 2,000 yards on Buena's lower-level teams last season--the backs have different styles that mirror their personalities.

Keiaho, an exuberant chatterbox, is intent on scoring every time he touches the ball, a trait that drives Coach Rick Scott to distraction.

"Whatever hair I have left is gray because of him," Scott said. "There's times Freddy fumbles and I want to kill him, but then he smiles and says he was going to go all the way. You just grit your teeth and pat him on the head."

Blackledge, a well-rounded devotee of the weight room and classroom, proceeds upfield more cautiously.

"Realistically, I can't hit the big play every time," Blackledge said. "My first objective is to get the first down."

Both players are 5 feet 11. Keiaho weighs 190 pounds and Blackledge 175. Keiaho is more likely to run over defenders; Blackledge to slip past them.

Scott says their speed is about equal.

"Freddy may have him by a step, but it's not much," Scott said. "And Freddy's a better receiver, but they're both excellent blockers and they both do well on defense."

Keiaho starts at cornerback and Blackledge is a reserve safety.

But each player excels when the ball is in his hands.

"They're excellent, the two of them work great as a combination," said Newbury Park Coach George Hurley, who watched them combine for 287 yards and three touchdowns in Buena's loss to the Panthers earlier this season.

"They're good athletes with good speed and you can't key on just one of them, so they're a force to be reckoned with."

Blackledge, a Ventura native, was surrounded by talent when he attended junior high in Oxnard. His former flag-football teammates include running backs Russell Patton of Channel Islands, James McCowan of Oxnard and Donald Thompson of Hueneme.

"Playing time was a problem," Blackledge said with a laugh. "They moved me to receiver."

Blackledge's mental toughness comes in part from long summer days spent clearing land while visiting his grandfather in Vance, Ala.

"Big Vic" Blackledge would have his 7-year-old grandson up at 5 a.m., dragging hoses and carrying tools around his brush-covered property. Three years later, D.J. graduated to splitting logs and toting hay bales.

"I haven't spent the summer there in two or three years," Blackledge said. "It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed being with my grandfather. His work ethic, it's been like that all his life and I take that as an inspiration."

Keiaho also respects his relatives, who are natives of Fiji. His family includes two older brothers, an older sister, two younger half-brothers and a younger half-sister.

Keiaho arrived in the U.S. when he was 2 and lived in Ventura, Florida and Colorado before returning to Fiji when he was in sixth grade.

Keiaho, whose given name is Naivote Tauwalakeiaho--the first name is that of his father's family and the second means "the job is done"--immersed himself in his native language and culture, but longed to be reunited with his mother, who remained in Ventura.

Keiaho returned to Ventura and first played football in eighth grade. He adapted to the game immediately, although his coaches played him at nose guard. On the Buena freshman team, he moved to tailback and encountered comparisons with his older brother.

Freddy Keiaho said George, who rushed for 6,615 yards as a Bulldog from 1990-93 before playing at Washington, has helped him through tough times in football. But the younger brother wants to establish his own identity.

"My brother and I are two different people," Freddy said. "[The comparisons] kind of get on my nerves."

Scott is looking for ways to frustrate opponents even more by using Keiaho and Blackledge together in the backfield.

Loughman, who has passed for 1,619 yards and 13 touchdowns, said he welcomes a two-pronged running attack.

"I love to throw, but if we do too much of it, I get beat up," Loughman said. "With the way our line has been blocking and the way those two guys have been hitting the hole, things will open up even more."

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