Listen to them talk. Watch their actions and mannerisms on the field. Take note of the way their coaches describe what they mean to their respective football teams.
Phillippe Lewis and Paradise Vaovasa may say they don’t know each other well. But as Lewis’ Lincoln team gets set to take on Vaovasa and Balboa in the San Francisco Section semifinals at Kezar Stadium tonight at 7, it’s hard to imagine the two fullback-linebackers don’t recognize a little bit of themselves in the other.
“We both play the same positions and I know he’s a hard worker and a leader,” Lewis said of Vaovasa. “I don’t focus too much on the other team, but you know a player when you see one.”
To make the comparison even more clear, Lewis (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) and Vaovasa (5-7, 180) will literally be mirroring each other all evening, flipping between middle linebacker and fullback depending upon which team has the ball.
And while Lincoln (8-2) boasts The City’s leading rusher in David Henderson and an opportunistic passing game and Balboa (5-5) has a marquee skill position players at running back (Soloman Webster), quarterback (Eric Lara) and receiver (Edgar Wilson), neither Lewis nor Vaovasa mind doing the dirty work away from the limelight.
“I kind of like being in the grunt position and being in that working man role,”Lewis said. “I take pride in that. You can’t always have that glamour on the front page of the paper.”
Lewis is a threat in his own right running the ball, having rushed for 502 yards and seven touchdowns this season. But he says he thinks of himself more as a “guard in the backfield” who gains just as much satisfaction from setting a key block to set Henderson free as breaking loose himself.
Defensively, Lewis has led a unit that allowed more than two touchdowns in a game just once in Academic Athletic Association play — in a 38-32 league-opening win over Balboa.
“[Phillippe’s] the heart and soul of it all,” Ferrigno said. “He’s a leader and extremely dedicated. There’s not enough superlatives to describe what he means to us.”
Balboa coach Keith Minor appears to be reading from the same script when expressing Vaovasa’s worth to the Buccaneers.
“Dice is the quintessential coach on the field, the tone setter and our unquestioned leader,” Balboa coach Keith Minor said. “He’s a little 5-7 animal on defense and it’s been his leadership that’s brought this team through the wilderness and some of the dark times this year.”
It was Vaovasa who helped stabilize the team after the loss to Lincoln dropped Balboa to 0-4 on the season. The Bucs responded with a season-defining five-game winning streak, during which Balboa outscored its opponents 196-38 and pitched three shutouts.
Now, the senior (who has run for 158 yards and two touchdowns and caught 15 passes for 175 yards and four scores) is looking to lead his team past the Mustangs and to its third straight Turkey Bowl appearance — with a different result.
The Bucs have lost the last two Turkey Bowls, including 21-20 last year to Lincoln.
“I’m so excited for this game, I need to actually keep some inside and save it,” Vaovasa said. “We’re tired of having people tell us, ‘Good job. You guys were close.’ We’re tired of that ‘almost.’ We’re ready to win.”