Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Former Vista stars get well-deserved recognition

BY TOM SHERIDAN - tsheridan@nctimes.com | Posted: Monday, February 1, 2010

The proud sports tradition of Vista High school was on living, breathing display last week as the school honored five former athletes who are professional athletes.

NFL players Pisa Tinoisamoa, Leon Hall and Russell Allen and major leaguers Trevor Cahill and Wes Littleton had their numbers retired in a 45-minute ceremony during a school assembly on Friday morning at the gym. Hall, Allen and Cahill were on hand personally. Littleton was playing in the Puerto Rican winter league and could not make it. Tinoisamoa did not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

The high school's athletic tradition is woven into the fabric of the community.

"When I moved to Vista in 1981, the very first thing I did was go to a Panther football game," Mayor Morris Vance said.

If you're attempting to gain some insight into the community of Vista, a Big Red football game is a good place to start.

Vista football coach Danny Williams said that school officials are still nailing down plans on exactly how to honor the athletes, possibly with banners along the rail above the press box at the football stadium, or something in the gym foyer. Williams said he and baseball coach Rick Lepire helped to drive the project.

"We kind of both just decided we have to do something for our guys," Williams said, "for their accomplishments and achievements, and the goals they have achieved."

It is certainly an impressive group. Hall just completed his third season as a starting cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals and tied for second in the AFC last season with five interceptions. Cahill, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic baseball team, won 10 games as a rookie last season and led the Oakland Athletics with 178 2/3 innings. And Allen made the Jacksonville Jaguars last fall as an undrafted free agent and worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of the season.

Williams said when he told Hall, who now makes his home outside of Cincinnati, about the idea, he signed on immediately.

"First of all, when you have events like this, or you make it known that not only athletes, but people who succeeded in their life, came out of the same high school," Hall said, "it's always good. Especially for the kids that are here. Because they may have a doubt in their mind that they can or cannot do it. So it kind of (confirms) that it is possible and that they can do it."

Collin Nyenhuis, a sophomore on Vista's varsity basketball team, was one of the students on hand in the packed gym.

"It makes me think, like, that I can do that, too," Nyenhuis said. "It's possible for us to do something like that."

Allen started 43 of 48 games at San Diego State and left as the school's No. 2 tackler all-time, but was not drafted. Like a lot of former Aztecs, though, he opened some eyes after he signed as a free agent and ended up being one of three rookies on the Jaguars to appear in all 16 games.

"I was fortunate I went into a place where I had a good opportunity," said Allen, who played on Vista's 2001 CIF San Diego Section Division I championship team. "They didn't draft anybody at that position, made a little niche for myself on special teams and I was able to stay on the team.

"As the season went on we had injuries, and I got to be on the field a little bit and show them that I could do it. And they put a little more trust in me as the season went on."

Cahill, 21, was part of Oakland's kiddie corps starting rotation last year. The A's other starters were Vic Mazzaro (23), Dallas Braden (26), Brett Anderson (22) and Gio Gonzalez (24). All-Star closer Andrew Bailey is 25.

"It worked for them in the past with (Barry) Zito, (Tim) Hudson, (Mark) Mulder," Cahill said. "I think they just figure just get as many (young arms) as you can."

Of course, for every person with a story such as Hall, Cahill and Allen, there is a Salo Faraimo. He was a high school teammate of Hall's, a running back and linebacker who was largely considered the best player on the team. Faraimo accepted a scholarship offer from USC while Hall went to Michigan. But Faraimo's career was cut short by a series of concussions.

"It was unfortunate," Hall said. "Any time it comes up, or I can work it in the conversation, I make sure I tell people who I went to high school with. Like Salo Faraimo. I mean, he was the greatest player I've seen in high school ever, to this day.

"He was a great player here at Vista and he'll always be remembered in my eyes as the greatest one."

That's what a hall of fame is for, remembering the great players. At Vista, a proud athletic tradition is being formally recognized and the time is right.

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