by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - North defensive lineman Kiuna Talalemotu from Beaverton High School attempts to sack South quarterback Gage Gubrud during the third quarter.

A year ago, Kiuna Talalemotu was a rangy, long linebacker fighting for varsity time and a spot in Bob Boyer’s Beaverton defense.

Talalemotu relished the physical aspect of football, the pad popping, the feeling of planting a quarterback into the turf and hearing him squeal a little bit under the force of the thump. Yet, for all his hard work and appetite for contact Talalemotu couldn’t find the regular playing time he craved, that is, until the day Boyer moved the pass rusher down to the trenches at defensive end.

At the second level, Talalemotu said he was “pretty small”, but he hit a growth spurt before the start of his senior season and sprouted to 6-foot-4. And, with Beaverton having low numbers upfront, Talalemotu switched to the defensive line, where he flourished with a non-stop motor and fierce aggression off the edge.

“I feel like defensive end is where I belonged,” said Talalemotu.

Along the front line playing nearly every down, Talalemotu thrived. Trying to tame the tall defensive end turned into a two-man task for many of the Metro League’s top teams.

A constant presence in the opponent’s backfield whether it was pressuring the quarterback or swarming a running back behind the line of scrimmage, Talalemotu turned into an unknown linebacker as a junior to a third-team all-Metro pick. And, as a reward for his stellar senior campaign, Talalemotu was selected to the Les Schwab Bowl on Saturday where suited up for the gridiron one final time.

“It was definitely an awesome opportunity,” said Talalemotu. “It’s a great group of guys and a lot of fun playing with these guys on the North team. It’s fun to get out there and put the pads back on.”

True to form, Talalemotu made his aggressive aura known, finishing the game with a sack, a tackle for a loss and three total tackles to help the North beat the South, 31-21.

“The competition stepped up a lot, so it was great to get out there for my last high school game and face it,” said Talalemotu. “Metro is still really tough, but it’s still great to play in the bowl.”

The 210-pound bullrusher was at his absolute best against Aloha, coming up with three sacks, two-and-a-half tackles for a loss and forcing a key intentional grounding call late in the fourth quarter that helped seal 29-21 win on homecoming night.

“That was an eye-opening game for me,” said Talalemotu of the Aloha triumph. “It made me realize what I was capable of. Some of my tackles early in the game got me pumped up, and I started rolling from there. I was getting tackles left and right throughout that game. And, my friends just kept encouraging me and pumping me up. That really kept me going.”

Talalemotu was part of a small, but impactful senior class that was the nucleus of a young Beaver team that beat Thurston in the “play-in” game, and shocked Sprague in the first round of the 6A playoffs before being eliminated by Canby in the second round. The indispensable senior core stuck around through the tough times and reaped the rewards of seeing the development process through with a pair of playoff wins.

“Normally you have a class and only a quarter of them produce,” said Boyer. “But, I would say 95-98 percent of our seniors were very productive, and a big part of what we did. Those guys got everything out of themselves that they could get. They showed great leadership, and taught our young guys how to do it.”

Going into the season Talalemotu said the standards surrounding Beaverton’s season weren’t high, but that didn’t stop the Beavers from unifying together for a common cause.

“I’m just glad I was able to help,” said Talalemotu. “And, I was proud of my team as well for them to push through and exceed everyone else’s expectations of us.

Talalemotu attracted interest from a couple of smaller colleges around the state, but has chosen to focus on academics at Oregon State.

“I loved my team,” said Talalemotu. “I’m going to remember playing with my friends, getting to know everyone and becoming a family. The practices were always hard, but this season is one I’ll always remember. It’s been fun.”

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