Rancho Alamitos senior Leo Kosi knew he had been selected The Times Orange County all-county team because he was invited to a photo session at Orange Coast College. But it took some convincing before Kosi believed he had been named The Times back of the year.
"When they came over to me and had me stand with this guy from Mater Dei, I didn't know what they were doing," Kosi said. "I wondered why would they want me in a picture with him. I thought only Division I schools got awards like this. When I told my coach, he didn't believe me. My friends didn't believe me either."
Kosi was the best and most prolific back in Orange County this year. In 13 games, he rushed for a county-leading 2,444 yards and 36 touchdowns, often against seven, eight and nine-man fronts.
At 5 feet 7, 180 pounds, he wasn't the county's biggest back. He probably wasn't the fastest either--his 40-yard dash time is about 4.6. But Kosi was the strongest, shiftiest and hardest-working running back around.
Garden Grove Coach Ralph Stevens, who has watched Kosi run through, around and past his defense for three years, said he gave up trying to devise a way to stop Kosi.
"If you try to stop him inside, he's going to take it outside," Stevens said. "If you force him outside, he'll power it up the middle and blow by you. The kid's amazing. He probably has the best balance I've ever seen in a running back and he's so strong, he doesn't go down."
Rancho Alamitos Coach Doug Case said Kosi bulked up by opening and closing the weight room nearly every day. By his senior year, Kosi was bench-pressing 315 pounds and squatting nearly 500.
"As long as I'm ever in coaching, Leo Kosi will be an example of what to do in the off-season," Case said. "He loves to lift weights, he loves school. He's the best kid I've ever coached."
Kosi entered Rancho Alamitos as a quick but pudgy kid who began his football career in fifth grade as a lineman because he was too heavy to play anywhere else. He'll leave Rancho Alamitos with a rock-hard body that allowed him to hold up through 13 games and 330 carries.
He'll also leave Rancho Alamitos atop the school's career rushing list and fourth on the county's all-time list with 4,873 yards.
"It feels good to be up there, but I really wish our team could have gone to the finals and won," said Kosi, whose Vaqueros lost to Pacifica in the Division VIII semifinals. "I'm not the only one on the team. The records would have meant a lot more had we won."
But without Kosi, the Vaqueros would not have won 12 games and reached the semifinals. Most coaches will tell you that. Kosi never would. Kosi would rather not tell a reporter anything unless he has to.
"Leo came up to me at the beginning of his junior season and said, 'Coach, this is a huge responsibility, I don't know if I'm ready for this,' " Case said.
Kosi was ready to carry the ball 30 times a game, he just wasn't ready for the spotlight.
"I was scared," he said. "I'm not much for attention. Even now, I have a hard time seeing myself on TV. I can't believe it's me up there."
But even with all the attention he has received with his assault on the record books, Kosi has yet to generate much interest from Division I college coaches. He has received letters from the U.S. Military Academy, Division I-AA Portland State and Division II UC Davis.
"I think it's partially because I'm too short," said Kosi, whose family came here from the Philippines when he was 6. "But there's a lot of short people in college football doing well."
Case said he isn't worried about Kosi, who has a 3.4 grade-point average and has scored 1100 on the Scholastic Assessment Test.
"He doesn't even care about playing Division I," Case said. "He wants an education. He wants to be an engineer."
Said Kosi: "Division I isn't really a goal of mine, but I'd be very competitive there. But if those scouts can't see the desire I have when I play, that's their loss."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The First Team
Pos. Name School QB Greg Cicero Servite RB Michael Jones Laguna Hills RB Leo Kosi Rancho Alamitos OL Jim Adams El Toro OL Brian Hart Fountain Valley OL Zack LaMonda Servite OL Vince Shinnefield Mater Dei OL Blake Worley Capistrano Valley WR Rod Perry Mater Dei WR Murle Sango El Toro WR Steve Ward Servite K Mike Phillips Los Alamitos
Pos. Name School DL David Coates Servite DL Alfred Giles Fountain Valley DL Brian Sepulveda Mission Viejo DL Stephen Sua Tustin LB Nu Atuatasi Rancho Alamitos LB Charlie Landrigan Capistrano Valley LB Andrew Medley Fountain Valley DB Derald Deason Orange DB John Hefty Aliso Niguel DB Ife Ohalete Los Alamitos DB Jose Rodriguez Anaheim P Matt McRae El Dorado