Pagano is doing his homework

HONOLULU - Scott Pagano knows all about homework. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive tackle is about to be a senior at Moanalua High School.

One of the top-25 prospects at his position in the country, he's learning on and off the field. It's spilled over to recruiting, where Pagano has become one of the most coveted defensive big men in college football.

A year ago at this time, Pagano was about to be verbally offered by the University of Hawaii - his first offer. Now Pagano claims 45 offers, his latest coming a couple of days ago from Georgia. Georgia? When is the last time the Bulldogs decided to go all the way out west to offer a player, let alone Hawaii? When is the last time a Hawaiian player signed with an SEC school?

A quick search reveals the answer to be Kahuku's Jonathan Mapu, who signed with Tennessee a decade ago. "We have a steady group of guys that come through every year, but there are some newer schools that are coming in to see Scott, obviously - schools that are geographically further away," said Na Menehune Head Coach Arnold Martinez.

The fact that SEC schools - like Alabama and LSU - are making the rounds at Moanalua should tell you one thing; the fact that Pagano is taking their overtures very seriously should tell you another - he's no ordinary Hawaiian football player.

"It's overwhelming, but it's a big, big blessing," Pagano told this week during our visit to Oahu. "My coaches and family always tell me to be humble, but stay hungry. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. My sophomore year, I was so young and not very big and mentally ready for the varsity level. But when the off-season came I worked really hard with the team and my Dad to get where I am today. I'm happy with the results and blessed with my coaches. I thank God for my family and my friends for the support that they've given to me during this time."

Some more revealing facts about Pagano: He's of Afrian-American and Italian decent, and lived in San Diego until he was seven. "I used to watch USC and the (Florida) Gators a lot on Saturdays," he said.

But with his father's promotion and a move to Hawaii, Pagano found a new home with the Na Menehune of Moanalua. Martinez has seen Pagano progress from being a bullish youngster to the rock of a man you see today.

"Now he's gotten to a point where he's matured," Martinez said. "He's going to be a senior this year, so he has to be one of our senior leaders. I think he understands his own growth and has kept it in perspective. He understands where his mistakes were when he was younger and now he's definitely in a place where he's so much more mature. We're trying to keep him in a place where he's humble and level-headed to where he leads the team and does some great things."

The total package of his physical gifts combined with his football sense and leadership qualities have led Pagano to this point. Now it's a matter of taking those final big steps to the finish line. To help him do that, he will start a string unofficial visits in the east, starting July 14th with LSU and moving to Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Clemson - finishing up on the 23rd. The idea is that Pagano will have a list of five schools to work off of at the end of July.

Pagano has already named four schools he'll eventually trip to officially: Nebraska, Baylor, Clemson and LSU. And he told the last officially visit will probably be to an SEC or Big-12 school. In fact, his No. 1 school - LSU - already has his undivided attention.

"I have a great connection with head coach Les Miles and the defensive line coach, coach Brick Haley," Pagano said. "Coach Les Miles said that I'm a difference-maker and I have a chance to come in and play as a true frosh. I know nothing is given, though. And they are in the SEC and they play against other powerhouse teams like Alabama, Georgia and Florida. They have a ton of defensive linemen that play in the NFL, and that's where I want to be some day."

You don't attract the attention of SEC schools in Hawaii unless you are something special. When Mapu committed to Tennessee in 2002, he was a top-5 rated defensive end. When it's all said and done, Pagano won't be held in that elite company - but he won't be far off.

"They all say my motor just keeps going," Pagano said matter-of-factly when asked for feedback he's gotten from college coaches.

Martinez lays it out a little deeper. "It's like the stock market…they just see the upside and they are projecting him out," he said of his prized recruit. "They feel like he can make plays for them. When Scott stays low and comes out and strikes, he can dominate the guy across from him. When he has his leverage…just look at his size. The coaches are interested in his upside, his dimensions, his power…and when you mix that with having some athletic ability…you don't have a lot of big guys with athletic ability that can move as well as Scott moves."

In talking to Pagano, his determination shines through. He knows he's being asked to do things that few will experience in his class. "There's a lot of pressure on me because a lot of scouts and colleges want me to do well from the film that they've seen and they want me to do better," he said. "There's a lot of pressure to go up against every team and be dominant every game, but I'm up for the challenge. I've been training hard this off-season and I think I'm ready to do it."

Carrying a B+ average in the classroom, Pagano has the books covered. And with a reported 380-pound bench and 550-pound squat lift, Pagano also has all the physical tools you would want in an impact lineman. But will his drive and desire put him over the top and allow him to compete in the top conferences in the country? No matter the outcome, Scott Pagano won't let this chapter in his life close without a happy ending because he can't.

"The opportunity that he has is keeping him focused and is actually creating more focus," Martinez said. "You never want an opportunity like that to slip away. Never." Top Stories