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Virgen’s View: Sapolu camp helps linemen

Virgen’s View: Sapolu camp helps linemen
(Steve Virgen | Daily Pilot)

Jesse Sapolu gathered his big students Saturday morning at Edison High.

“We’re not coaching today,” the former Pro Bowl center said, referring to himself and his coaching staff. “Today is about competition.”


Sapolu, the Costa Mesa resident who won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, conducts his Men In The Trenches lineman camp at Edison High. It’s a 16-week program. Saturday was the midway point and time for a competition, the inaugural Bash by the Beach, a lineman challenge.

Various linemen, high school and college athletes, competed in different drills to earn awards.


“It’s not about trophies,” Sapolu told the group. “It’s about getting better. This just makes it fun. It isn’t just the seven-on-seven guys who get to have the fun.”

Gmac Schuster, who will be a senior in the fall at Long Beach Poly, won the Lineman of the Camp award, a crystal trophy.

He constantly beat his opponent to the quarterback, a tackling dummy, during a drill. Schuster, a 6-foot-1 1/2, 270-pound lineman has been a member of Sapolu’s camp since the summer before he became a freshman.

“Coach Jesse is one of the most helpful coaches I’ve ever had,” Schuster said. “He has helped me so much. I just thank God for having him in my life.”


Schuster said he needs to continue to work hard to contribute to the Jackrabbits, who won the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division title last season.

He showed big-time aggression each time he rushed the quarterback and beat his opponent.

“Being on the defensive line, you have to be the aggressor,” Schuster said. “You have to play with anger. You have to let it out. Whatever you’re mad at just let it all out.”

Sapolu doesn’t particularly teach that. He tells his students he’s not there to overwork them with rigorous conditioning. Instead he wants to stress the fundamentals.


“We teach you to get to the next level,” Sapolu told the linemen. “But there are no guarantees, man. You need to work hard. You can’t hide. You can’t just be a big guy. You need to step up.”

The linemen in the program appear excited and grateful to learn from Sapolu, who played 15 years in the NFL that included nine appearances in the NFC title game, two Pro Bowl and two All-Pro selections. That’s an impressive resume from an 11th-round NFL Draft pick.

He wants to pass on his knowledge to them. Sapolu had been on the Edison coaching staff, but he said he preferred to conduct his linemen camp.

“This is my passion,” he said.

And his camps have been successful.

Tico Puga of Edison High also stood out during Saturday’s camp. He’s been highly recruited as he enters his senior year for the Chargers.

Isaac Luatua, out of La Mirada, was a member of the camp before moving on to the University of Alabama.

Lee Afusia is a coach at the camp. His son, Kody, played at Ocean View and is now playing at the University of Hawaii.

Frank Albers is also a coach at the camp. His son, Andrew, played at Costa Mesa High and Orange Coast College and is contending for a starting spot in the fall at the University of Utah.

“The camp has taught me great form, good steps and to have good quick feet,” said Dominic Granado, who was the Offensive Lineman of the Camp for the college division. "[The camp has] got me a lot better with my technique.”

Granado, who played for Edison, will be a sophomore for Golden West in the fall. He said he has an offer from Arkansas State and he hopes to gain more attraction during his final season with the Rustlers.

The mixture of high school players and junior college athletes helps the linemen excel and gain confidence, Lee Afusia said.

Having Sapolu teach definitely adds to the instruction and desire to improve.

“I enjoyed [coaching high school],” Sapolu said. “But my joy now is to see the kids I teach on TV. I’m able to teach them the subtle tricks of the trade and the basic fundamentals. And, show them what it takes to take their game over the top.”