Eye of the Tiger


The prospective football recruits were on display at Hec Ed.  There were about 18 of them wandering in together for the basketball game.  I don’t remember who Washington played.  I don’t remember the score.  I remember the recruits.

Especially two.

Scanning the prospective Husky football players as they came in and sat down, I was impressed with the size of Colin Porter.  Erik Kohler was big but Porter, wearing just Levis and a t-shirt, was impressive.  Ben Riva looked like a tight end next to Porter, and 250 lb. tight end Michael Hartvigson looked like a basketball player.  The four chatted back and forth, bonding, occasionally laughing, while sitting in the alignment they would probably experience on the field: Hartvigson, Riva, Porter, Kohler.  They just needed another guard and a center.

Nick Montana sat down to the far end of the recruits and began chatting with Skyline junior Kasen Williams.  Williams said little.  Having already committed, Montana was recruiting; Williams was listening.

Other recruits joked and laughed, some nervously, although most were just acting like sociable 18-year-olds.

As my eye wandered from player to player, an interesting sensation occurred: I froze on two guys sitting together in the middle, oblivious to the others, expressionless, watching.  Inexplicably mesmerized, I tried to read their faces but there was no message.  My intuition instantly told me

that no one should ever screw with these guys.  Why would I spontaneously think that?  Their expressions.

The eye of the tiger.

John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono had it.

They’re probably very enjoyable people, although I’ve never met them.  As they sat silently watching, however, both seemed so different, older, than the other recruits rubbernecking, bantering back and forth.  I looked again at Porter; he looked big but he appeared affable, not intimidating.  Back to Timu and Fuimaono.  No change in expression.  Ice.

I’ve since learned that except for the corridor along Ocean Boulevard, there are no neighborhoods in Long Beach comparable in civility to Seattle and Eastside neighborhoods, and among the worst is the area around Jordan High, a stone’s throw from East Compton.  Timu and Fuimaono both went to Jordan.  While David Starr Jordan High in Long Beach is not the worst place to go to high school, growing up around Jordan High is no picnic.  Living there is not synonymous with surviving but, from what I’m told, there are times when it seems that way.

From what I have read and been told, aspirations and time horizons among Jordan High students nevertheless die hard.  Fittingly, the popular Survivor title song for Rocky IV, “Eye of the Tiger”, had a couple of lines that read:

"…don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past;you must fight just to keep them alive…"

and while Timu and Fuimaono sat in Hec Ed in an environment both similar and dramatically dissimilar to the Jordan High gym, the ‘hood’ was evident in their eyes but, no doubt, the prospect of something entirely different, much bigger, must have magnified the moment, for the University of Washington (with a medical research budget approaching $1 billion and a constant top-20 ranking among universities) was within their grasp.  The fact that Montlake and Houghton Park are a lot further apart than 1,000 miles could not have been lost on them.

At the beginning of spring ball, both were playing weakside linebacker but now the two are bookends with Fuimaono at weakside linebacker and Timu at strongside linebacker.  During recent practices, Head Coach Steve Sarkisian has singled out both Timu and Fuimaono for praise.  Competition at linebacker is intense but, understandably, so are the Jordan High graduates.  Don’t expect any intensity relaxation, any decline in mental toughness.  That luxury was never available in North Long Beach, and the opportunity they have doesn’t come along for everyone that graduates from Jordan High.  Ironically, their involuntary preparation for this moment, growing up in North Long Beach, will hold them in good stead, and in the near future the opportunity will occur for Husky opponents on offense to look behind the Washington defensive line and see, on either side, the eye of the tiger.