Wednesday, June 30, 1999
After three league player of the week
awards and dozens of bone-crunching
hits, Chris Paogofie has proved he's...
By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
By Pat Bigold
The crowd in Austin, Texas, was getting on Chris Paogofie one weekend in late April.
It was the Hawaii Hammerheads' first road trip. They were not only up against a hostile crowd but the deepest, most talented club in the Indoor Professional Football League, the Texas Terminators.
"I had to do something to shut 'em up," said Paogofie, who stands well under six feet but weighs a solidly packed 195 pounds. "I had to hit somebody."
What happened next was pure Paogofie.
"The running back runs a toss, gets around the corner, Chris comes up, gets underneath and knocks him over the boards, INTO THE THIRD ROW," said Hammerheads defensive coordinator Doug Semones with a chuckle.
It might have been the most dramatic hit of Paogofie's season, but it's only one of countless body bashings he's administered in his 10 games with the Hammerheads.
In the past month, Paogofie has received three IPFL defensive player of the week awards. He's won each in emphatic fashion, playing at safety or middle or outside linebacker.
He plays alongside his older brother, Sasae, who preceded Chris at Waianae as an all-state selection.
"Chris is just a collision looking for a place to happen," said Semones, who coached a powerful Kahuku High offense that ran plays away from Paogofie when he played strong safety for Waianae High.
Paogofie knows the first-place Terminators (9-1) will remember him Saturday night when they face the second-place Hammerheads in a showdown at the Blaisdell Arena.
It's just the kind of situation Paogofie loves to have on the 50-yard IPFL playing field.
"There's not much room to run and nowhere to hide," he said. "You can hit people harder."
Paogofie's philosophy is to hit early, hit hard and hit often.
"You gotta let them know you're there," he said. "This past game (a 28-17 victory over the Rocky Mountain Thunder), they were dropping balls because me and my teammates were letting them know we were there."
Hammerheads head coach Guy Benjamin, a former NFL quarterback, said the 21-year-old Paogofie is still developing as a technician. But he paid him the ultimate compliment as a hitter.
"I played with some outstanding defensive players in San Francisco and Miami, guys like Ronnie Lott, who could really hit," said Benjamin, "but I never saw a guy deliver a lick like Paogofie. And he doesn't take cheap shots."
Semones, a former defensive assistant at Hawaii, said what Paogofie has is God-given.
"It's a natural thing," he said. "Some guys are born with it and some guys aren't. You can teach a guy to be a tackler, but you can't really teach him to be a hitter.
"He brings his hips when he hits and he just - BOOM - blows people away."
Semones said Paogofie knows how to gamble and win.
"He has an instinct for where the ball is going to be," Semones said.
It amazes a lot of football followers in Hawaii that he did not make it to a major Division I program.
The former Star-Bulletin All-State Defensive Player of the Year did go on to Dixie Junior College in Utah, where he was a two-time J.C. All-American.
The only thing that kept Paogofie from signing a Division I letter of intent was his lack of interest in the classroom.
"I'm going into my 18th year coaching here and he's the second best football machine I've ever seen," said Dixie head coach Greg Croshaw. "The first was Corey Dillon (Cincinnati Bengals running back, 1997 AFC rookie of the year)."
The economic road has been tough for Paogofie, who has two small daughters and works construction when he can. He's willing to play for $200 a game in the hope that someone from the NFL or Canadian Football League will give him a tryout.
Just the chance to pop off a few helmets in some team's camp - that's all Paogofie asks.
Whether or not he gets the chance remains to be seen. But Paogofie said he's ready for the long climb upward.