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'Hot head' grows into true leader

Team captain tackles, fixes attitude problem

By Malcolm Lastra, sports editor
On May 18, 2011

People with positive attitudes tend to build strong connections with others and get ahead in life, while those who possess poor character traits are more than likely to have limited opportunities.

However, people with character flaws can eventually change their ways through maturation, motivation and self discipline.

For sophomore Comet defensive end and The Advocate's Male Athlete of the Year Niko Aumua, that developing character has been something he experienced in his two years at Contra Costa College — going from a short-tempered athlete in 2009 to a mature and humble player in 2010 with the help of football coach Alonzo Carter.

"I was a hot head back in the day," Aumua said. "I never had a coach who really cared about me and what I did on and off the field."

The 22-year-old San Jose native came to CCC in 2009 after taking a year off after graduating from Alameda High School in 2008, where he played wide receiver.

While Aumua possessed talent from the receiver position with his tall 6 foot 6 inch frame, he failed to gain any recognition at CCC from four-year colleges due to his poor on-the-field behavior.

In fact, during his freshman season at CCC he was suspended for the remainder of the year by coaches when he was involved in a physical altercation with an opposing player from Hartnell College.

"I remember me and the other player exchanged some words and he challenged me to a fight," Aumua said. "I refused to back down from it and the fight resulted in the cops coming onto the field and escorting me from the game."

Aumua said that part of the blame for his bad behavior was the fact that the team was generally undisciplined and was experiencing a frustrating year, finishing 1-9.

Things began to change for Aumua upon the arrival of Carter, the former Berkeley and McClymonds high school football coach who motivated the athlete to change his conduct.

"(Prior to coaching the Comets) I knew Niko was a wild guy, but I told him to reconcile his issues with (Athletic Director) John Wade," Carter said. "His bad attitude needed to be fixed because he couldn't continue to head in that direction."

Another change Carter presented to Aumua was his playing position, moving him to the other side of the ball placing by him at defensive end.

Aumua took the coach's challenge head on and became a gym rat over the summer, bulking up his muscle for his new position.

"I coached against Niko when I was at Berkeley and he was at Alameda," Carter said. "(Although he was a good receiver) he was tough on us on the defensive side of the ball too and I wanted him to get back to that same level of aggression he had (on defense)."

Responsibility began to set in for Aumua as he was also named a team captain.

"I knew this year wouldn't be a bad one," Aumua said. "We (as a team) erased our past and looked at the season as a rebirth of the CCC football program."

Aumua responded well at his defensive end position and the other roles Carter placed on him as he was consistently all over the field rushing opposing quarterbacks, catching touchdown passes as a receiver, chasing down kick returners on special teams and even hiking the ball to the punter.

"I knew he would be able to dominate on defense, but he exceeded everyone's expectations of him," Carter said. "He does so much and is a very versatile player."

The sophomore finished the year leading the team in tackles (63), interceptions (three), sacks (12) and fumble recoveries (two). His sack total and tackles for losses (25) led the Bay Valley Conference.

"He was our best defensive lineman but he still worked hard like the rest of the team," freshman defensive lineman Floyd Pellom said. "He always set a good example for us."

Through his hard work Aumua was named Bay Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year and the BVC First Defensive Team.

Despite all his success on the field, Aumua's biggest reward came in the form a full ride athletic scholarship to Washington State University.

"Before this year I never had a Division I school come to any of my practices," Aumua said. "When Carter came to CCC he made football a reality to me."

Aumua was described by teammates as an inspiration and a humble person.

"He was the most laid back captain, but he always came through when we needed him, whether it be catching a touchdown pass or hiking the ball," freshman kicker Jose Munguia said. "He wasn't the type to put us freshman players through first-year hazing like most sophomores would."

Other players agreed.

"He was older than most of us but he never caused a scene when the team got out of line," freshman defensive back Alonzo Cudjo said. "He was a cool teammate to have."

While Aumua has his hopes set on reaching the NFL some day, he said the greatest accomplishment he achieved at CCC was his maturity as a player and person.

"(Niko) is a great kid. He bought into my program and followed the script," Carter said. "If he stays on course, things will work out for him."

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