Thursday, February 4, 1999
Pisa Tinoisamoa may haveBy Paul Arnett
to serve time in jail for a
pair of felony-assault
Top Hawaii recruit Pisa Tinoisamoa will learn tomorrow whether he will have to serve time for a Jan. 13 conviction on two counts of felony assault.
Although the recruit hadn't returned his letter of intent yesterday, Rainbows head coach June Jones is confident it could arrive as early as today.
The San Diego resident announced his commitment to the Rainbows during a press conference held yesterday morning at Vista High School, located north of San Diego.
Hawaii's overnight package containing the letter didn't arrive in time for Tinoisamoa to sign it. But at this point, it's merely a formality. Jones is confident the talented, but troubled youth is island-bound.
"We believe he is worth the risk," Jones told the Star-Bulletin yesterday after announcing the Rainbows had received 21 letters-of-intent. "He's been in a tough environment. If we can get him out of that, I think he has a chance to survive.
"Now, will he make it? Well, we've got to support him. I think he understands that at this point, this is his last chance. Everybody says that if he doesn't get out of that area, he's going to end up six feet down."
Rated one of the top 100 high school recruits by The Sporting News, Tinoisamoa addressed his recent problems in a candid interview in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. He will be sentenced in a San Diego Juvenile Court on two counts of felony assault, stemming from a fight at the Del Mar Fair last July 1. He faces a maximum sentence of 400 days at a county probation facility.
"I'm guilty," Tinoisamoa said. "Getting involved was not right. I made myself guilty. What I did wasn't right at all. In this society, you can't do that stuff, and I've learned that the hard way."
The victim couldn't be reached for comment, but a witness to the fight gave a detailed account of what happened in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He said that Tinoisamoa and an accomplice beat a man into submission.
"The victim had a small amount of blood coming from his head and was going through some sort of shock breathing episode where his entire lung cage came up as high as it could," the witness said. "The only thing he remembers now is waking up in the hospital."
After the felony conviction, every program except Hawaii dropped the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder from their recruiting list. The standout linebacker and running back was recruited by Arizona, Texas, Colorado, San Diego State and Fresno State. Three days before the conviction, Tinoisamoa -- the San Diego County Defensive Player of the Year and the All-CIF-San Diego Section's first team offensive star -- gave a verbal commitment to the Aztecs.
"The bottom line is we can't recruit anyone charged with a felony," San Diego State head coach Ted Tollner said. "I'm in complete agreement with that rule. I think Pisa is a youngster that has a good support system.
"And with a second chance -- if we could have taken him -- would have been worth it. I had a feeling I could legitimately build a case to present to give him a second chance. But once it got to a certain level, I couldn't."
This isn't the first time Tinoisamoa has run afoul of the law. Two years ago, he was arrested and charged for his role in a tagging spree between rival gangs that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
"I had a lot of things go wrong with me, the worst of which was getting in trouble with the law," Tinoisamoa said. "It really dragged me down in school."
His academic situation is another area of concern for Hawaii. He is 30 points shy on his SAT and could wind up missing his final semester in high school if the judge sentences him tomorrow.
"We were thinking of sending one of our coaches to San Diego to speak on Pisa's behalf, but we're not sure if that's an NCAA violation," Jones said. "But we want to give Pisa positive support.
"He's a great football player and I think he is a good kid, but he's from a real tough neighborhood. If we hadn't brought him over for the visit and seen what he was like, we wouldn't have offered him a scholarship. He kind of won us all over.
"If he pans out, great. But if he doesn't, you take a lot of heat. In life, if you don't take chances, you're not going to go anywhere. We know what the risks are."
Last year, Tinoisamoa rushed for 1,600 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. He also had 75 tackles on defense, including six sacks. He managed three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Tinoisamoa wasn't the only talented player Hawaii signed. The Rainbows also received a commitment from a big-time wide receiver from San Francisco City College. Attrice Brooks is a 6-5, 210-pound speedster built along the lines of Randy Moss. He has great downfield speed, but still has some unfinished business in the classroom before he can gain his academic eligibility. Hawaii also landed Los Amigos High (Calif.) running back Andrew Niumata.
In one game last season, the 6-2, 210-pounder out of Los Angeles rushed for 413 yards on only 14 carries. Both of these offensive players could help the Rainbows immediately.
"We also signed a very talented defensive back out of Mississippi," Jones said of Dedrick Miller of Northwest Mississippi College. "The areas we thought we needed to address -- defensive back, defensive line and wide receiver -- came up big for us. I'm pleased with who we signed, especially considering the late date."
Jones also signed another local player late last night. Kailua High defensive lineman Jesse Keaulana-Kamakea accepted a scholarship from assistant Rich Miano. The 6-3, 280-pounder is the fifth Hawaii prep player to sign with the Rainbows.