Prep football • Lineman learning he plays a big part in Lancers' success.
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West Valley City • Mone Latu has gotten a chance to watch the new building slowly take shape next to the football field. It will be the new Granger High School, a more expansive and expensive facility for the thousands of students in West Valley.
The senior won't go there. His is the final graduating class from the place where his older brothers and sisters went to school. And he's proud of that.
"I don't want to go to the new school anyway," Latu said. "It means a lot to me that they went here."
His brothers also played football for Granger, but they sacrificed their athletic careers to take care of their younger siblings after the family lost their father 14 years ago.
Latu, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker and defensive end, now has the chance to make something of the sacrifice. His coaches and his family know he has the talent to be a college player. It's up to him to fulfill his potential.
"I'd probably be with foster parents or something without them," he said. "Football is how I show appreciation."
Latu's football career has been anything but straightforward. It's been rocky, zig-zagging, filled with starts and stops. Even this season, Latu has struggled with injury and discipline as he works to become the player everyone around him envisions.
Coach Cecil Thomas, who was at Weber State before taking the Granger job this year, sees the ideal foundation. Latu is explosive, and he has quick feet and strength to push around blockers. He terrorized Viewmont for five sacks this year.
But his physicality isn't the only aspect of his game that makes him a standout player. It's the ripple effect his play has on the Granger defense.
"He's an alpha," Thomas said. "Guys look up to him. When he plays hard, everyone else plays hard. When he's not focused, other guys aren't focused."
Those flashes of potential are what is so exhilarating about Latu. He has seven sacks this year despite missing three games. The coaching staff moved him from outside linebacker to defensive lineman, and his quickness has helped him excel in that role.
But Latu is the first to admit it's been difficult to get into the lockstep routine that the new Granger staff has set out for him. He started the season as a captain, then was demoted, then brought back as a captain as his attitude toward the team changed.
He's just starting to accept that he must grow into a leadership role for the Lancers.
"At first, I didn't know why I was a captain," he said. "But I guess younger guys look up to me. I used to do my own thing. I never realized that before."
There still are some questions about Latu's college future, but he's working harder on his academics to that end. Thomas said improving his star senior's grades is the first priority before he takes other steps and pulls other strings.
The more pressing issue for Latu is the current season. Granger is 5-2, but it's not the first time the Lancers have had some hope. They were looking like a lock for the postseason last year but just missed their shot in the last week.
The more comfortable Latu becomes as a leader for his team, the more he hopes he can push Granger to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
It's not just his own aspirations on the line.
"We don't want to repeat last year," he said. "Even if I have a good game, I'm not going to be happy with how the result goes if we lose. We just have to cement this together, to keep working hard."
Mone Latu growing up for Granger
In four games, Latu has 31 tackles and seven sacks.
He switched over from linebacker to defensive end.
Latu also has started playing one way after starting the season at fullback.