LONG BEACH — His name is Hero Kanu.
“It’s a name of destiny,” said Anthony Rouzier, his football coach at Santa Margarita High.
Kanu plays in the Trinity League, where you always need another Hero or maybe a whole comic book library.
The Trinity League is known as the Southeastern Conference of high school football, but that’s not true. There’s no Vanderbilt in the Trinity League.
In the spring, the Eagles played St. John Bosco, Mater Dei and Servite, and gave up 156 points in those losses. They played one non-Trinity team, Mayfair, and won, 54-16, and MaxPreps ranked them No. 13 in California.
Kanu wasn’t accustomed to such powerhouse competition, but then he wasn’t accustomed to football either. The five games he played were the first five he ever played.
Before that, he was a promising club soccer player in Germany, a goalkeeper and fullback who had designs on joining Bayern Munich’s junior program.
Kanu, a senior, is also 6-foot-5 and 293.
“Even against Bosco’s offensive line, he was making plays in their backfield,” said guard Killian O’Connor, as the Big Six gathered for a media preview at The Grand on Friday.
For Kanu, football did not end when the games did. He took a 17-day tour of the great college football castles of America. On July 9, he announced his top nine picks: USC, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma and Washington. He will disclose his college decision at the Army All-American Game on Jan. 8.
“He’s a behemoth, a dancing bear,” Rouzier said. “And the best thing is, he’s still only 16.”
In other words, he’s not in Geltendorf anymore.
Kanu was 14 when a friend, in his Bavarian village, started throwing an American football around. Kanu thought he might try it. He wound up at a camp and was spotted by Brandon Collier, a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber who had founded Premier Prospects International, which develops European teenagers and showcases them for American colleges.
“I would say he’s arguably the best player at every recruiting camp he went on,” Collier said earlier this year. “He’s going to be the best defensive lineman in his class, and I think somebody can really untap a first-round draft pick.”
As fate would have it, Collier’s roommate at Massachusetts was Rouzier, who had coached the Hamburg Huskies of the German Football League. In 2018, Rouzier joined the staff at Santa Margarita and, in hopes of immobilizing the program’s coaching turnstile, took over the program last year. He is the fourth head coach since Harry Welch left in 2013.
Maurice Heims, a linebacker from Hamburg who now plays at Cal, was the first to use Collier’s pipeline to Santa Margarita. Like Kanu, he lived with a host family and left his real kinfolk behind.
“I’m the youngest of three,” Kanu said, “so it was really tough for us. I talk to someone back home every day.”
“Maurice and Derek Wilkins (also at Cal) did a great job showing Hero the ropes,” O’Connor said. “He always had that God-given athletic ability with those feet. By playing and going to the camps, he’s gotten very good about putting his hands in certain spots. He can disrupt your rhythm and stop your feet from moving. I know he’s made me way better, just from practicing against him each day.”
There have been adjustments. Kanu’s soccer team practiced only twice a week, with no weightlifting or video room demands. But Kanu had no problem standing up to the 4- and 5-star offensive linemen that came for him in the spring.
“I had fun with the contact,” he said. “I’m not scared of anything on the field. Just go full-in.”
The Eagles have also pushed their chips to the middle. They play San Juan Hills, Norco and Los Alamitos before they begin what Rouzier calls “the gauntlet” on Oct. 1 at JSerra.
They did win the Battle Of The Beach passing league tournament, which included their Trinity rivals, and they have Jaxon Potter, a promising junior quarterback. But the Eagles know Trinity championships are generally won by the guys who shop at Big And Tall.
Rouzier is trying to build togetherness by following the lessons of “Legacy,” a book about New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby champions. His goal as a coach, he says, is to “make sure I’m invited to these young men’s weddings. To win their hearts, have a transformational relationship.”
We should look for more evidence that tomorrow’s coaches are trying to hit the sweet spot between Nick Saban and Ted Lasso. Either way can work, particularly when you find a marvel and Hero, all in one.