Building a foundation

All sports are based on a solid foundation - first you start with foot work ... this is why soccer is good for children at a young age. The boxer standing in the ring is not much different then the batter standing in the box, both must start with a strong, athletic foundation, legs outside their hips, ready to move in an instant and strike with power.

When Minarets started their football program six years ago they had coaches, players, equipment, and a field - nearly everything needed to play the game - and set out to build the foundation. But the school had no weights, no weight program, and no money to fund either. Season after season it showed in the third and fourth quarters as the Mustangs surrendered big points after playing tough early in games.

After the second season weights were purchased from fundraising and generous contributions from the community. That was the easy part - the hard part was getting the athletes to buy into the importance of dedicating the time to train with them. The next hurdle was space, there was none, the weights were put in a 24-by-24-foot room. Junior Varsity and Varsity would alternate working weights before the season started for 30 minutes, baby steps in building the foundation. Fast forward two years later and the Mustangs have a much larger weight facility and are building that foundation.

Coach Dave Hall would open the weight room at 6 a.m. to a handful of players, but most lacked the motivation and knowledge to take training to the next level. It is now more evident then ever how important having fit athletes is to preventing injury, and “going the distance” in competition.

As a junior, Mason Ellis led the football team in nearly all categories on defense as well as offense last year. To watch Mason as a junior, break tackle after tackle to go for long gains or scores, to come from across the field to run down players from behind, saving touchdowns time and time again, you knew this kid was putting in the work in his down time to bring his game to the next level. Ellis would be a starter at any D-1 program in the valley.

George Ellis, Mason’s father, saw the potential in his son early on, and at the same time, saw the short comings in the school’s weight and training program. After inquiring about a trainer George was introduced to Jackson Lakatani. The trainer not only builds bodies but builds character and minds as well. His son Anotio was a highly recruited linebacker out of high school, had a full-ride offer from USC, but chose to do Missionary work in the Philippines for two years. After returning, Anotio played at Fresno City and was offered a mid-year offer from Colorado, but chose to hang up his cleats and pursue a career in business.

Jackson started a weight training and conditioning program at Minarets this past summer, driving from Fresno three days a week for the 6 a.m. workouts open to all Minarets athletes. What started as weight training soon became a mentorship program. Simple things as following direction, stressing the importance of being on time, and doing things right the first time were emphasized.

Head Coach Bob Kelly offered Jackson the head JV coaching position after seeing the trainer in action. Jackson enlisted his son, nephew, and some of their friends to help with the training and coaching duties. Three of the coaches were three year starters at Fresno State. The JV staff consist of Iasitu Lakatani (Jackson), Antonio Lakatani, James Ieau, Ioane Sagapolu, Renno Sagapolu, Pono Wong, Mana Chong Gum, and Mana Hironaka.

“It's all about the kids ... taking them from where they used to be to a higher level,” Anotio said. “We’re teaching these student athletes life principles, being an upstanding person in the community. That’s our number one priority. Making sure the kids stay in school, stay on the right path, and not lose out on a chance at education, and at the same time, with football, keeping them up on their grades, and offering them an opportunity to play football at the next level.”

Jackson has trained NFL players, MLB players, as well as soccer players, and now he is training young Mustangs. He has opened his weight training to all athletes at Minarets. On any given day you will find volleyball, baseball, and basketball players working out with Jackson and his coaches before school.

You could say Jackson has adopted about 100 more kids - Mustang kids - and he is counting on them taking his principals to the field, and into their community.

“While our athletes are getting stronger and faster, much more importantly, they are learning how to be better people, and this will help them in the classroom, in their jobs, and throughout their lives,” Kelly said.

After five years of organized football at Minarets, the final pieces of the foundation are being put into place ... a foundation that is being built upon and will reap rewards for Minarets High for years to come.