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THE RIVALRY No. 1 USC (11-0) vs. No. 11 UCLA (9-1)
Saturday at the Coliseum, 1:30 p.m., Channel 7

Showing His True Colors

Lineman Tevaga once loved the cardinal and gold of USC but is now excelling in the powder blue of UCLA

November 28, 2005|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

UCLA lineman Shannon Tevaga and his younger brother, Sonny, loved to compete against each other growing up. It didn't matter if it was basketball or checkers, they would just go at it.

When it came to colleges, it was no different. Shannon was Mr. USC, and Sonny was Mr. UCLA.

"I started following the Bruins when Bob Toledo was coach and Cade McNown was their quarterback," said Sonny, a senior at Compton Dominguez High. "That was my team. But not Shannon. He was always with those other guys."

Shannon's allegiance to the Trojans ran deep. Whenever he and Sonny shopped for clothes, Shannon went with cardinal and gold colors and Sonny picked powder blue.

But all of that changed when Shannon became a hot football recruit while attending La Mirada. At 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds, Tevaga was regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the state. Everyone seemed to want him, including his favorite, USC, and rival UCLA.

Then, during the spring after his junior season, UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell and running back coach Eric Bieniemy visited him at school.

"I was thinking SC all the way, and then the recruiting process started," Tevaga said. "That's when I began to really like UCLA. The coaches showed me their depth chart and told me that I had a chance to play right away. That was enough for me."

So, forever a USC fan, Shannon Tevaga switched allegiances and committed to the Bruins before his senior year in high school -- a choice, considering the success USC's program was enjoying, that prompted plenty of questions.

"People always would ask me why, but I liked how Coach Dorrell was making everything like a family," said Tevaga, who committed to UCLA before Dorrell's first season, in 2003. "You could tell that's what he wanted to have happen, and I liked that. I feel that I'm a big part of the change here."

A big part of a big change.

In 2003, UCLA quarterbacks were sacked 51 times. This season, it's down to 20, and the Bruins are averaging 6.48 yards a play, 444.4 yards a game and 40 points, sixth-best in the nation.

Successfully recruiting Tevaga was a huge accomplishment for the Bruins, who had one of the worst offensive lines in the Pacific 10 Conference and did not have any standout players waiting in the wings.

"We recruited him aggressively because we knew that a lot of other schools thought highly of him," Bieniemy said. "We wanted to give the impression how serious we were.

"Then, on the first day of our padded practice, it was obvious that he would have a chance to be a difference-maker for us."

Tevaga began his freshman season, 2004, as the backup to senior Steven Vieira. But by midseason he was starting at strong-side guard, with Vieira moving to weak side.

The first game Tevaga started was at Arizona State, and although he looked like a freshman at times, he performed well enough to become a regular in the lineup.

"He's really come a long way," senior center Mike McCloskey said. "I remember his first start. In that game, I'll just say that his tempo wasn't exactly where it needed to be. But he picked it up after that, and has been just a great football player since then."

A third-team freshman All-American last season, Tevaga has started 16 consecutive games and impressed UCLA's coaching staff with his durability and toughness.

"Shannon's quick as a cat and strong as an ox," Bieniemy said. "Plus, he picked up our offense on the spot."

Tevaga has also been getting the job done in the classroom. He has a B average and plans to major in business. With Sonny expected to join him as a lineman next year, Shannon is living out a dream that his parents had for him and his brothers.

"I wasn't very studious when I was younger; my parents had to make me study," Shannon said. "But in order to play ball, I had to do my work ... and it was tough."

Tevaga's father, Savvi, is a former rugby player who stressed academics. But it wasn't until he threatened to pull Shannon off the La Mirada football team because of poor grades that he got his son's full attention.

"I knew that I was pretty good because college letters were starting to pile up my junior year," Tevaga said. "But I watched my older brother [Shareff] end up at Long Beach City probably because of poor grades. It was all about time management for me. I had to get my priorities in order."

Added Sonny: "Our parents always told us to try and get straight A's, but we didn't always do it. They told us that for our future, in order to get a good job and support your family, we needed to do well in school. Then Shannon started to do it all the time."

The boys' mother, Lei, said it was important for everybody that Shannon went to UCLA.

"They were the first [school to offer a scholarship], and I told him that they were the best one," she said. "But he would have to work. There were so many colleges that wanted him, but I was really strong for him to stay in Los Angeles."

Shannon, the fourth of seven children, is excited about playing with Sonny next season.

"I can show him the ropes of college football," he said. "When Coach Dorrell recruited me, he made everything a family. You could tell that's what he wanted to have happen. I feel that I'm a big part of that change, and now Sonny will be here."

And there could be yet another Tevaga soon joining the Bruin family. Shareff, a year older than Shannon, will return from a Mormon mission in August. His mother has plans for him, another football lineman.

"He's big just like Shannon ... That would be great to have all three of them together at UCLA."

As for his old love, USC, Shannon Tevaga said, "It's good to see that SC is still doing well," because it will cause that much more of an uproar if UCLA wins Saturday.

"It's payback time for us because we feel that we should have won last year," Tevaga said. "It's funny, because when I first decided to go to UCLA, people always asked me why I picked them. Now, everybody is hitting me up. People hated us when we were down, now they love us."

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