October 24, 2008: The Serra Padres beat Bellarmine College Prep 31-23 at San Jose City College.
At around that same point in time, a young Kelepi Lataimua was a fifth grader.
And there was no way to tell that somewhere in the future, Serra would need that young man one day to come up huge not once, but twice if they wanted to beat the Bells again.
But fast-forward almost five years and that’s exactly what happened. Serra, who after that loss went on to endure eight straight defeats at the hands of the powerful Bells, found themselves protecting a 17-7 lead late in their latest clash against Bellarmine.
“The game was tight the entire time,” said Serra head coach Patrick Walsh. “We can never seem to pull away.”
And so, with Bellarmine threatening near the Serra goal line, Lataimua took matters into his own hands, picking off a C.J. Samuels pass to thwart a drive that could have made the remainder of Friday night’s 17-7 win very interesting.
“His first [interception], I thought, was the biggest one,” Walsh said. “And obviously, the second one iced the game and that was the end of it.”
Indeed, it was only fitting that Lataimua end up with the ball on defense as it was he who sparked the Padres to victory in what has to go down as one of Serra’s biggest West Catholic Athletic League wins ever.
For his efforts, Lataimua is the Daily Journal Athlete of the Week.
“As we got to know our personnel and dealing with some adversity within our team, injuries and other things, it was clear we couldn’t afford the opportunity to have Kelepi just play offense,” Walsh said about handing Lataimua his own piece of defensive real estate at such a young age. “And very quickly, he became the best corner we had on the team. He’s developed into ... a guy we feel comfortable putting out on an island. It’s a lonely job, but Kelepi has the mental capacity, as a competitor, combined with his physical abilities, to be out there and play man coverage, and zone coverage and he’s a real blessing to have on a team.”
Aside from his two picks, Lataimua also racked up five tackles in what was overall another inspired defensive performance by the Padres.
“I think the attitude of our defense reflects the leadership on our defense,” Walsh said. “It’s those leaders that have driven the rest of the young guys like Kelepi. It’s definitely a group effort that leads to individual success.
“[Lataimua] is a cool cat. He doesn’t say much. It alway seems like he’s in control of his emotions. He has a short-term memory. And I think he believes in himself. Self confidence is probably the number one character trait needed to play the cornerback position. So, at a young age, it’s sometimes rare to see a kid believe in himself so much, regardless of what you ask him to do.”
On Friday, he was asked to do more than just shut down the Bells’ offensive attack. Known for his explosiveness on offense, it was Lataimua’s 59-yard reception that set up Serra’s first touchdown of the game — giving them momentum and confidence the rest of the game.
“He’s certainly an impact player when he gets in there on offense,” Walsh said. “He’s a guy you need to account for in the offensive game plan as well. I think we’re all fortunate in San Mateo County football, to have Kelepi around for a few more years.”