The last time the South San Francisco High School football team was in the Peninsula Athletic League's Bay Division, in 2008, it finished 0-5 in league play and was promptly demoted back to the lower Ocean Division the following year.
The Warriors were ill-equipped for the Bay that season because they returned an inexperienced roster. That won't be the case this time around as South San Francisco returns 11 starters, including a supremely unique talent in 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior Maligi Maluia, who is the rarest of combinations: A quarterback and linebacker.
"He's quite a find," Warriors coach Frank Moro said. "All this time, people thought of him only as a linebacker and running back, but let me tell you, he's the real deal at quarterback."
Case in point: The Warriors were 1-3 entering league play last year when Moro inserted Maluia as the starting quarterback. South City proceeded to rip off six straight wins, an undefeated run through the Ocean Division and a berth in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs. Opponents of South City — especially cornerbacks and safeties — dread the thought of seeing Maluia come their way.
"Quite a few show fear when I'm running toward them," said Maluia, the 2012 Ocean Division Linebacker and Utility Player of the Year. "Playing quarterback for South City is something I always dreamed about."
Maluia's rapid rise as a quarterback was evident during the summer when he participated in several quarterback camps, including the Ultimate 100 Camp Showcase in Los Angeles. Maluia has always had a cannon for an arm, but his accuracy and footwork have improved to the point where he can beat teams by running and throwing the ball.
Not bad for someone who never played quarterback until his junior year. What drove Maluia to success? His dad, Kolone, who is South City's defensive coordinator.
"From the fifth grade on, I was in the weight room with my dad," Maluia said. "He's taught me everything I know."
Maluia has also used doubters as motivation. When he first got under center last year — Maluia played the second half in the team's fourth game against Menlo-Atherton — he saw the looks on the faces from the opposing team and knew they thought of him only as a novelty.
"I came in and it's like, 'Oh, what's this big guy doing playing quarterback?'" Maluia said. "I love to prove people wrong."
Maluia said he has a one-rep max squat of 500 pounds, and he certainly uses his power to deliver some devastating hits on the field. As valuable as Maluia is to the South City defense, Moro knows he can't have Maluia playing linebacker on every down.
"You probably don't want your quarterback to be hitting so much," Moro said. "Luckily, we've got some depth at linebacker so some guys can spot him a play or two, but Maliga will definitely be out there in crunch time. I can't imagine where we'd be without him."