East Ascension’s Sione Palelei, a Utah native, has adjusted to south Louisiana to become one of the state’s best running backs
“It was way different from what I expected. The weather really got to me.” SIONE PALELEI, East Ascension running back
GONZALES — The messages for East Ascension High School running back Sione “Boo” Palelei on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were from strangers trying to follow his lead.
They were curious as to what steps Palelei took from relative obscurity and undersized running back to the school’s career rushing leader and future LSU Tiger.
“I like to help kids who want to set goals but have a hard time figuring out the right path for themselves,” Palelei said. “I get messages from kids of all races and backgrounds. I’ve been able to help some who have the talent to build up and get (college) exposure.”
That Palelei, who leads No. 9 East Ascension (4-0) into a 7 p.m. road game against Lutcher (1-3) on Friday, finds himself in a position to affect others in such a positive manner is a tribute to not only his determination but his ability to adapt and persevere.
Palelei still recalls his objection to being told by his father just over five years ago the family was relocating from Salt Lake City to Gonzales for of a work-related opportunity.
“I was furious,” Palelei said. “I don’t like to disagree with family, but I would be leaving all my friends and family to come to another place where everything’s different from the climate to the food. It was very difficult for me to get with it.”
Instead of remaining with his longtime friends and pursuing his football dreams in scenic Salt Lake City, which sits 4,226 feet above elevation with a population of more than 2.3 million people, Palelei relented and headed to Gonzales with its flat land and growing community of over 10,000 residents.
Instead of postcard perfect, snow-capped mountains with running water in his boyhood home, Palelei dealt with the incessant sweat running from his forehead because of the sultry summers filled with humidity.
“It was way different from what I expected,” Palelei said. “The weather really got to me.”
By his own admission, Palelei was naturally shy. Trying to fit into his new environment with a different culture while making friends was a work in progress.
Palelei, who is half Samoan and half Tongan, said it was two weeks before frosty introductions dissolved into warm smiles and friendships were born.
Playing football was another icebreaker for Palelei to turn teammates into fast friends with as much his own good-natured personality as his ability to run with a football.
But make no mistake, Palelei, created his own niche and endeared himself to those at EA and the community that ardently supports the Spartans with a career to remember.
EA coach Paul Bourgeois took over the program three years ago and remembered hearing about Palelei, a gifted 5-foot-9 running back who played with the varsity as a freshman.
“Since he played as a freshman, I knew there had to be something special about him already,” Bourgeois said. “They were talking that we had a good future at running back. I had no idea the level of how good he could be.”
Already blessed with sprinter’s speed, Palelei worked diligently in the weight room to develop the strength and durability to go along with his balance and vision. He garnered several scholarship offers before his senior season, including Utah from his old hometown, but was hopeful of something a little closer to new home.
That day finally came July 17 during a private workout on the final day of LSU’s summer camp when Palelei earned a scholarship offer from coach Les Miles, who then accepted his commitment.
Palelei, who bulked up nearly 10 pounds to 205 this season, has certainly played his part in EA’s undefeated start, averaging 291 all-purpose yards per game. He’s rushed for 710 yards and 10 TDs, caught nine passes for 239 yards and two TDs and returned a pair of kickoffs for scores.
During Saturday’s 35-30 victory over Brother Martin, Palelei became EA’s all-time rushing leader with 2,543 yards, surpassing the total of 2,438 set by Tim Delmore from 1989-91. He also tied Delmore’s career TD total of 33.
“I’ve thought about whether I would be who I am now if I stayed home,” Palelei said. “The outcome of this turned out very well for something that was negative in my thoughts. We moved here and started something new. Each moment here is something I’ll always cherish.”