By CHINONSO EMENIM
Backed up against the goal line, the Kingsmen defense–accurately nicknamed “The Wild Bunch,”–gets set, trying to force a field goal instead of giving up a touchdown. As darkness begins to fall, the chants of the crowd nearly drown out the quarterback’s shouts as he tries to straighten up the formation. All the way down the line of scrimmage, the biggest players on the field crouch in their stances, tensely awaiting the quarterback’s signal.
At the far end of the line, grass and dirt staining his once-white jersey, is one of the Wild Bunch’s newest additions – Penn High School senior Leegrand Alovili. On this play, he only has one goal–to make sure the quarterback is lying on the ground at the end of the play, preferably with the ball bouncing loose.
For those who know him well, it isn’t a surprise that Alovili has become a regular on the varsity team, despite not having played organized football until two years ago. After all, he’s no stranger to hard work. As a child growing up in Australia, he spent a lot of time working on construction sites.
“Especially when we weren’t in school, we would wake up early in the morning, and stay on site till after dark. That was our daily routine,” said Alovili.
Alovili had spent his entire life in Australia before flying across the Atlantic to live in the Mishawaka area with his brother in 2016. He left many of his family members behind, including his mother. He’s been staying with the Vakalahi family here in Indiana. “The thing I miss the most about Australia is probably the family and friends I left back at home,” Alovili said. “But the Vakalahi family has been really nice to take us in.”
Alovili has already noticed quite a few differences between Australian and American culture, especially when it comes to high school sports.
“In America, the high school athletics are a lot more organized,” Alovili observed. “In Australia, we didn’t train as hard or as long as we do here, and we definitely didn’t have as many fans watching from the stands. They didn’t take sports as seriously in Australia as they do in America.”
Since rugby is much more popular than American football in Australia, making the transition between the two sports is one of the challenges that Alovili faced this season. “It took a while for me to get used to the longer practices, especially since I was learning a new game,” Alovili said of the differences he’s noticed. “The biggest difference I saw between the two games is that rugby is much more of a continuous sport than football. In rugby I was used to running for about 40 minutes at a time without stopping in rugby, but in football, a play lasts maybe 10 or 15 seconds at the most.”
After a productive debut season of American football, Alovili looks to continue the success in his senior year. So far, he’s been a constant in opposing backfields, rushing passers and bringing down runners before they can get started.