Lefiti leads silent Knights

By Jack Danilewicz
Special to the Star-Bulletin

The in-game chatter that confronts Castle's defensive line generally goes unanswered -- at least, verbally.

"There's a lot of talk out there (on the field)," says Soli Lefiti, the Knights' defensive end and senior leader. "But I don't talk -- it's the guys on the other teams that talk, mostly. I just do my job."

Although Castle coach Nelson Maeda is outside of ear-shot, Lefiti echoes his coach's sentiments.

"We hope they let their actions speak for themselves," says Maeda. "We try and discourage the talking."

Indeed, Lefiti neatly sums up the collective mentality of the Knights. They are perhaps as calm and collected, mentally, as a football team can be. They are also assertive, physical and fast on both sides of the ball. And speed, lest anyone forget, is power.

If anything, Lefiti is the prototypical Castle football player. He is but 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, undersized by a defensive end's standards (don't Big Ten safeties weigh more?), but, then, his measurements are only numbers.

"I have the height, but I don't have the weight," he says with a smile.

He didn't always have the height, either.

"I really grew in '99 -- my freshman year," he says. "I was 5-7, and then I grew four inches that year. But size doesn't mean anything. It's all about speed. Speed kills. The smaller man can always win with his speed and quickness."

"We never have size here -- look at me, I'm 175 pounds," adds defensive lineman/ linebacker Antone Watanabe. "But we're quick. They (other teams) always talk ... we're small this, small that. ... All of our defensive linemen are quiet. We just go out on the field and play ball."

The prevailing theme at Castle is always along these lines. But if size really mattered, the Knights wouldn't be the talk of Kaneohe.

The Castle defense, meanwhile, is the talk of the Knights' football team.

Their defensive front, which includes Travis Paaga and Mana Sasaki in addition to Lefiti and Watanabe, figures to play a big part in the Knights' chances in tomorrow night's state championship game with Saint Louis.

They have more than held their own throughout Castle's current eight-game win streak, making it possible for the Knights' heralded linebacker corps of Elde Agcaoili, Cory Daniel and Blaze Soares to execute the plays as they are drawn up by defensive coordinator Tony Pang Kee.

"That front four has been an integral part of the defense, especially Soli," Maeda says. "He makes his presence known. He's had several key knockdowns throughout the course of this season and into the playoffs. He's very deceiving. He looks tall and lanky, but he's very quick and has great extension. He runs to the ball very well. He's a defensive lineman/wide receiver, which gives you an idea of his athletic ability."

"We've been reading our keys and shooting the gaps -- when our D-line does the job, our linebackers get the tackles," adds Lefiti. "Our defense has to step it up and hold them this week. Offensively, we have to have a good week of practice. This will be our last game, so we have to play better than we have in all the other games."

As one of 13 seniors on the Castle roster, Lefiti had to reinvent his role in the offseason by becoming a leader.

"During the summer, (coach Maeda) talked to the seniors about being leaders," says Lefiti. "The team didn't have leadership then. He told me I had to lead the D-line and the defense. He said if we could have some leadership on this team, we could go farther than any Castle team. And we have gone farther. It was hard to become a leader. You have to push people and boss them around."

Says Maeda: "He's quiet by nature, pretty introverted, but he's assumed a leadership role. For him to just step up before the team and lead them in practice was a big step for him."

Although being vocal has never come easily for Lefiti, he is considered a natural athlete around Castle.

Lefiti's father, Joe, was the first to recognize Soli's athletic potential. He signed his son up to play for the Kaneohe Knights' Pop Warner program in 1996 when he was 11. The elder Lefiti had played football during his own high school days in California.

"That was the first time I ever played football," says Soli. "He told me I was going to play football, and he signed me up. It was fun, and it was something to do after school instead of just going home and hanging out. He wanted me to make use of my time. He goes to every single game now. He's real proud of us for getting this far."

To the man, the Knights all agree that their path has been well prepared.

"Summer training was hard," Lefiti says. "You lift weights, you run a lot. ... I didn't like conditioning at first, but in a game, you regret it when you're tired. In the fourth quarter, we feel like we can go for a couple more quarters. After the game, we're still not tired. Conditioning has helped us a lot.

"We go full speed until the whistle blows, every play, every game," he continues. "I'm not surprised (by Castle's success). We've been preparing for this since the spring. We've worked hard. And it's hard work that got us here."

In addition to the Knights' demanding offseason workouts, Soli spent many summer afternoons playing pick-up basketball games on the playground at Ben Parker Elementary.

"I live to play basketball there -- I want to go out for the basketball team when the (football) season is over," he says. "Basketball keeps me in shape, and it helps me with my quickness."

As game night closes in, Lefiti's last-minute words of encouragement are not for his fellow teammates on the defensive line, but for the team's greatest supporters -- the Castle band.

So deafening was the Castle band during last week's semifinal game against McKinley that Tigers quarterback Abel Werner had trouble being heard when delivering the signals in the red zone.

"The band is doing a good job for Castle," says Lefiti.

Then he leans closer to the writer's recorder and adds, "Keep up the good work, band!"

And play it loud. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

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