By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-6,000 miles is equivalent to two trips across the United States. For Broncbuster linebacker Heston Lameta, his journey to southwest Kansas was equally as long, but from a far different place.
Lameta arrived in Garden City last summer from American Samoa, a country that is 3,000 miles east of Australia.
"There was definitely an adjustment period," Lameta said after practice on Wednesday.
That adjustment took the former Samoana High School star from starter to red shirt his first season in brown and gold.
"I watched those guys last year and how they worked," Lameta said. "I learned a lot from guys like Alex Figueroa. He led the team."
Lameta is slotted to play the "Mike" linebacker spot, once occupied by the former Miami Hurricane. And so far, the redshirt freshman has caught the eye of those watching practice, including third-year Head Coach Jeff Sims.
"We've practiced nine days, and I can say that Heston has been the most consistent from a leadership standpoint," he said. "He only knows one speed."
Lameta is not the first Samoan-player expected to do big things in Garden City. Last year, defensive end Jamie Tago, who transferred from Hawaii, and defensive tackle Kahewai Kaaiawaawa, starred on a defense that finished first in the nation in total yards per game allowed. But there is more to this international calling card than meets the eye.
Last season, Sims hired Keikiokalani Misipeka as his running back coach and international recruiter. Misipeka, who resides in Las Vegas during the offseason, graduated from the same high school as Lameta and coached the Mighty Sharks after he finished college. His plan all along was to help local student-athletes earn football scholarships through non-profit organizations: Field House 100 and Pasefika International Sports Alliance (PISA). So far the mission has proved to be successful, or has he calls it: "Guys from the Rock are pretty good." The Rock is how most refer to American Samoa.
It is still too early to tell exactly what Lameta will turn into. There is a long list of Broncbuster linebackers and defensive players in recent years that left an indelible mark. In 2013, linebackers Errol Clarke and D'vonta Derricot combined for 169 tackles, four sacks, a fumble recovery and three interceptions. Cimarron-product Alex Neuschafer grabbed the torch with a team-best 61 tackles and three sacks a year later. But it was 2015, where the dynamic really changed.
Enter Florida-Atlantic transfer Jeremy Faulk, one-time Cass Tech star Delshawn Phillips, linebacker Gabe Luyanda, Alabama-transfer Eddie Williams and North Carolina move-in Mike Hughes to the fold, and a defense that once gave up 84 points to Butler in 2012 and 84 again to Coffeyville at the end of 2014, started to shape into one of the most dominant units the Jayhawk Conference had ever seen.
"We were so much older last year on that side of the ball," Sims said. "This year, we have a lot of young, talented guys, but they don't even know if I know what I'm talking about yet. I have to prove to them that I know what I'm doing before they buy in."
Lameta was a part of that defensive resurgence, even if he was sitting in the stands on game day.
"Just watching, those guys were so different," Lameta said. "But I learned so much from their leadership skills. That's what really stood out."
Fortunately for Lameta, he has a returner Rayshawn Wilborn right beside him, who was a wide receiver coming out of high school when he committed to Central Michigan.
"Rayshawn has been a big help to me," Lameta acknowledged. "I've learned a lot from him."
This group of Broncbuster defenders may be young, but for the ones who watched Josh Hager's unit absolutely obliterate the competition in route to the program's first-ever national championship, the transition will be smoother than a lot of people would think.
"These guys know what has to be done," Sims said. "They just have to put it all together."
They have 13 days and counting to do so.