You don’t have to tell Samson Tonga the biblical story of Samson and Delilah.
“My grandfather and his grandfather were both named Samson,” the Seaside High linebacker said. “My great-grandfather looked something like Samson. He had the long hair and was athletic. They kind of thought I’d look like that, too.”
Only Samson Tonga didn’t just rely on long hair to provide his strength. His power and stamina came the old fashioned way — a lot of sweat, a lot of work and a lot of extra hours dedicated to football on and off the field.
“After practice the linebackers would all get together and do extra stuff,” he said. “We’d also work out on weekends. We didn’t take days off. We were always pushing ourselves to do more. We’d lift weights. We’d do agility drills. We worked on speed, mechanics and coverage. And we did a lot of extra cone work.”
And when it was over the 5-11, 195-pound Tonga helped Seaside High make one of the most dramatic turnarounds of any Monterey County team in most any year.
It also was a big reason why Tonga was chosen by Salinas Californian sportswriters as our Defensive Player of the Year in Monterey County.
He played a key role in helping Seaside High go from 2-8 in 2011, allowing an average of 34.6 points per game, to going 10-0 in 2012 and giving up an average of just 7.5 points per game.
In seven of Seaside’s 10 regular-season games it allowed seven points or less while delivering three shutouts.
Defense priority No. 1
“Before the season started we made a priority list of things to do,” Tonga said. “The No. 1 thing on that list was to bring back the Seaside defense. I’ve always admired some of Seaside’s outstanding defensive players. I wanted us to get to that level.”
The Spartans didn’t waste time getting to work. About a month after the 2011 season ended, they began working on the following season.
“We dealt with a lot of stuff (in 2011),” Tonga said. “But it just gave us fuel to get ready for next year. We started off-season training in January and things started clicking. You could see and feel the change immediately.”
Tonga took on the role of the silent leader.
“I felt like to make a point you have to lead by example,” he said. “I felt like someone had to step up and pull the defense together.”
Seaside’s stinging and swarming defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown to rival Monterey High and kept MBL Gabilan Division champion Palma from scoring until it had a 25-0 lead late in the third quarter.
The Palma game was special, and not just because it was Seaside’s first win against Palma since 1981.
“That was our thank-you game to our coaches for pushing us to get better,” Tonga said.
From field to classroom
Tonga’s work doesn’t stop with the end of football. There’s still more to be done in the classroom, even though he carries a 3.7 grade point average.
“By the end of the year I want it to be 4.0,” he said. “My parents are pushing me to make sure education comes first.”
Not even Tonga knows yet where he might be playing next year.
“I’m going to apply to colleges and see what happens,” he said. “I’d like to play in California, maybe somewhere in the (San Francisco) Bay Area.”
Here is the rest of our All-County defense:
* LB: Shaunne Kotoa, Monterey, senior — There was never much doubt about Kotoa’s talents after being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 as a junior. A three-year varsity starter, he was a first-team all-leaguer this year, despite playing injured part of the time.
“He had to deal with a lot of pressure,” Monterey coach Tom Newton said. “But he loves the competition. He really got up for the big games. He came up big in a lot of big situations this year.”
* LB: Matt Lualemana, Seaside, senior — The 5-11, 220-pounder was the second leading tackler on what was probably the No. 1-rated defense in the southern zone of the CCS.
“He was all over the field,” said his coach Al Avila. “At times he was like a strong safety. He played the pass and run effectively. He was our vocal leader. I tell everyone there were no two better linebackers than Tonga and Lualemana.”
* DL: Johnathon Tuiolosega, Seaside, senior — The 6-3, 285-pounder was not only the mainstay of Seaside’s front line, but on occasion would play the role of Refrigerator Perry on short-yardage situations near the goal line. He scored four touchdowns. Not bad for someone named Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman of the MBL Pacific Division.
“He physically dominated teams,” Avila said. “He was a linebacker’s dream. He’d take on all the blocks, and most of the time he was double-teamed.”
* DL: Hildelv Manzur, Palma, senior — How’s this for an endorsement: “He’s (Manzur) probably the most dominating defensive lineman I’ve ever coached,” Palma’s Jeff Carnazzo said.
Then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Manzur was named the Gabilan Division’s Most Valuable Defensive Player.
“Hollister (CCS D-I champion) ran the ball inside on us six straight times and he made the tackle every time,” Carnazzo said.
He also returned a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown to highlight the Palma victory.
“He’s going to play at the next level somewhere next year,” Carnazzo said.
* DL: Jack Powers, Palma, senior — Powers, last year’s Salinas Californian Defensive Player of the Year, will likely be playing at the four-year level as well.
The 6-6, 275-pounder already has about a half dozen offers, and was named the Gabilan Division Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman. He was chosen T-CAL Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“He’s a D-I prospect,” Carnazzo said. “He’s got great size and he’s very athletic.”
* LB: Eddy Guzman, Alisal, senior — Speaking of defensive MVPs, say hello to Eddy Guzman. He was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Monterey Bay League Pacific Division.
“He was the heart and soul of our team,” Alisal coach Sunil Smith said. “We fed off him.”
Guzman not only led the team in tackles, but may have set the tone for what turned out to be a record-breaking year for the Trojans in terms of wins (8) and hosting the school’s first ever CCS playoff game. He blocked a last-minute field goal attempt in the first game of the year against Soledad to preserve a 7-6 win to get Alisal off and running.
* DB: Jovan Villalobos, Alisal senior — A first-team MBL Pacific Division defensive back, Villalobos rarely left the field. He played a key role on defense where Alisal allowed the third fewest points of any of the 29 schools from Santa Cruz to King City. He also led Alisal in rushing touchdowns with seven, carrying for more than 350 yards on the season.
He was a team leader on offense and defense, said Smith.
“I know you hear it said all the time, but Jovan really was like having a coach on the field,” Smith said. “He was respected by everyone.”
* DB: Jackson Duda, Salinas, senior — the Cowboys didn’t have many two-way starters, but the durable Duda was one of them. He was a first-team, all-league defensive back, rushed for more than 300 yards, caught seven passes and filled in at quarterback at times.
Not surprisingly, he was honored as MVP of the 2012 Cowboys.
* DB: Kyle Salao, Salinas, senior — Salao made a name for himself in 2011 when he returned a kickoff 80 yards with two minutes to play to give the Cowboys a dramatic 27-26 win over Homestead in a CCS D-I playoff opener.
He picked up where he left off this year by returning a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and returning a pair of interceptions for two more scores, including one of 72 yards, in the season-opener. He didn’t get kicked to or thrown to much of the year after that.
* DB: Austin Wahl, Palma, senior — A first-team all-MBL Gabilan Division pick, Wahl had five interceptions and nearly all came at critical times.
He had two key interceptions in a season-opening 12-7 win over St. Francis-Mt. View, had two more thefts to save a come-from-behind win against Monterey and another interception against rival Salinas. Finally, in a CCS playoff game against eventual state finalist St. Ignatius, Wahl returned a fumble 64 yards for a touchdown.
He was also active on offense with 14 catches for nearly 200 yards.
“He was the quarterback of our defense,” Carnazzo said. “He always made things happen. He’s the kind of kid who will probably be playing in the Ivy League.”
* LB: Jimmy Hill, Monterey, senior — There’s no questioning the impact the 5-8, 170-pound Hill had for Monterey and its opponents by being named the MBL Gabilan Division MVP. He was the quarterback of a team that went 8-2 in the regular season and was also a starting first-team all-league outside linebacker. If that wasn’t enough, he was the long snapper on punt formation.
And oh yeah, he carried a 4.0 GPA.
“He never came off the field unless he was injured,” said Monterey coach Tom Newton. “He was also on the kickoff team and return team. He’s been like that since I’ve been here. He was our best player.”
He accounted for more than 1,110 yards of offense (rushing and passing) and 20 touchdowns this past season.
* Utility: Jordan Borne, Pacific Grove, senior — You could put the 6-4, 180-pound Borne anywhere on the field and his athleticism would shine.
He was all over the field helping the Breakers reach the playoffs for the first time in four years, not only as a defensive back but also as a prime-time receiver with 17 catches for 381 yards and seven touchdowns.
* Coach of the Year: Al Avila, Seaside — Avila’s climb from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the mountain has been well chronicled in this newspaper.
Avila celebrated his 20th year as head coach with a team that may have been a perfect example of his two decades of coaching. His first team (1993) went 0-9. His 2012 team went 10-0, and didn’t lose until the CCS D-IV semifinals.
Avila’s career record at Seaside stands at 117-97-3, but since 2000 his teams have gone 99-44-2 with 10 post-season appearances, four CCS championship games and two CCS titles.