Tough attitude makes Kenai senior bigger, faster than he looks

Kard trick

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

It was the night of Sept. 16, 2000, just a few hours after Kenai senior inside linebacker Sepa Nicholas-Silvira had made 24 tackles in a 6-0 loss to archrival Soldotna.

Although he had been a terror that afternoon on the football field, Nicholas-Silvira decided to show the Stars his more genteel side by making an appearance with a friend at the Soldotna homecoming dance that evening.

He scarcely had made his entrance when somebody mentioned the name "Sepa" and problems began.

"Wait a minute?" somebody questioned him. "You're Sepa? The same guy out there on the field? You're supposed to be a lot bigger."

Nicholas-Silvira is 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds -- relatively modest measurements in the world of high school football -- yet he still was able to lead the Kardinals in sacks and tackles this season.

"A lot of people are surprised when they meet me off the field," Nicholas-Silvira said. "I laugh when things happen like at that Soldotna homecoming dance."

This spring, Nicholas-Silvira has shown that the ability to play football bigger than he looks is not the only thing in his bag of tricks.

At the Kenai Invitational on April 22, Nicholas-Silvira had smoking times of 15.6 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles and 41.2 seconds in the 300 hurdles. At the time, both were the best times in the state.

As news of the times filtered around Alaska, many couldn't believe that they belonged to the supposed big monster who had earned all-state honors in football.

"Are you sure that's Sepa Nicholas-Silvira?" one reporter calling the Clarion asked. "Man, I didn't know he was that fast."

It's an old, overused cliche, but it fits in this case. When it comes to Nicholas-Silvira, what's on the inside counts.

"His heart is bigger than his body," said Stan Pitlo, Nicholas-Silvira's uncle. "He plays football with his heart."

Kenai coach Jim Beeson said Nicholas-Silvira is as coachable as any kid he's been around. A prime example came just over a week into Kenai's training camp, when Beeson suddenly wanted to move Nicholas-Silvira from outside to inside linebacker.

Instead of complaining about the shift, Nicholas-Silvira accepted it and went on to have his all-state year.

"He has a natural thing where he likes to line up and whack people," Beeson said. "That goes along with him being very coachable.

"A linebacker has to step up and whack people. He can't be afraid of contact. He definitely believes in his own mind that he's bigger than what he is. He was playing against people bigger than him all year."

And it's not like Nicholas-Silvira's secret to success was expending himself each series at linebacker, then collapsing on the sidelines until the next defensive series.

He also played special teams and offense for the Kardinals, meaning he never left the field. He was all-Northern Lights Conference on the offensive line at guard.

There a number of factors that led to Nicholas-Silvira being the dedicated athlete who lifts weights one hour per day, five days per week.

First, he said sports is what helped him meet people when he moved to Kenai in the seventh grade to live with Stan and Becky Pitlo, his uncle and aunt.

Second, he has experienced disappointment. In his sophomore season, he didn't get moved up to varsity in football until late in the year.

"I think after that, he decided that he had better get to work," Pitlo said.

Finally, Nicholas-Silvira spent his junior year playing football and running track in Hawaii, teaching him there are bigger and faster athletes out there than Alaska has to offer.

"The competition was so fierce," said Nicholas-Silvira, who made the all-Interscholastic League of Honolulu team at outside linebacker his junior year. "It felt like we were playing college or something.

"There were quarterbacks that were able to throw the bomb, and receivers that were able to run under it and catch it. But I was able to hang with them."

Nicholas-Silvira also got a taste of a higher level in track. In the 110 hurdles, he dropped his time from 17.5 to 16 seconds. In the 300 hurdles, his clocking dropped from 43 to 41 seconds.

Despite that improvement, he was blown away at the state meet.

"I realized my junior year that there are a lot of people out there that are bigger, faster, stronger and better than me," Nicholas-Silvira said. "In order to beat them, I was going to have to train a lot harder."

After his smashing debut at the Kenai Invitational, Nicholas-Silvira finished third in both hurdles events at the Skyview Invitational a week later.

Tim Sandahl, who coaches Nicholas-Silvira in the hurdles, said the third places were no reason to panic. He said his athlete needs to work on some sprinting speed, and by the end of the year he'll be fine.

"The hurdles can be such a mental thing," said Sandahl, who ran hurdles for Kenai Central in the early 1980s. "My senior year, I was back and forth with a couple of Soldotna kids every week.

"One week I'd beat them, and the next they'd get me. I'd wonder what happened. You just have to keep chugging in practice."

And Nicholas-Silvira's attitude in practice is something Sandahl doesn't have to worry about.

"You don't find a nicer kid," Sandahl said. "I hope mine grow up to be like him. He'll do anything you ask. He's willing to try anything to become better, and that's all I can ask."

Pitlo said one area where he'd like to see Nicholas-Silvira improve is in the classroom, where he carries a 2.5 grade point average.

Nicholas-Silvira has a solid work ethic in place, he just needs to learn to apply it in the classroom.

"I was just like he was," said Pitlo, now the publisher of the Peninsula Clarion. "Then my sophomore year (in college), the light went on. I realized this baseball stuff wasn't going to cut it any more."

Nicholas-Silvira will attend Eastern Arizona Junior College next year, where his hitting ability and track speed should be put to good use at safety.

His family also likes the fact that Eastern Arizona's coach said that academics are important, and that football will take care of itself.

"I can't wait," Nicholas-Silvira said. "I'm really counting down the days until I can get out there and start hitting again."

Looks like he's going to be up to his old tricks.

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