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Berrien Springs' Paea named AP Division 5-6 Player of Year

Berrien Springs' Phil Paea // WSBT 22 photo

BERRIEN SPRINGS, Mich. (AP) — Phil Paea has stood out physically and spiritually for the Berrien Springs football team the past two seasons.

Before every Shamrock game, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound two-way lineman who'll play for Michigan next fall has led the team in a pregame ritual called the haka.

Originally a New Zeeland war chant from the Maori tribe, the haka involves foot-stomping and rhythmic body slapping, all led by chants shouted by a leader — in this case, Paea.

"It's basically getting power and strength from your ancestors," said Paea, the Michigan Associated Press Division 5-6 Player of the Year. "My brother Vili started doing that in 2009 because he wanted to bring his team closer together. I started it two years ago wanting the same thing, for my team to become more of a brotherhood."

Paea, who played on both offensive and defensive lines for the Shamrocks, anchored an offensive line that rushed for 3,242 yards as a team while making 53 tackles and three sacks from his defensive tackle position.

"As good as he is as a player, he's an even better kid," said Berrien Springs coach Tony Scaccia. "His athleticism and the things he does well on the field are what everybody sees but we see him on a personal level. I'm really proud of the young man he's become."

Paea credits his humbleness and outlook on life from his parents Paul and Amelia Paea, who have brought him up in the Seventh Day Adventist faith, as well as his Tongan heritage.

The haka helped to bring his teammates together, and his play on the field helped get Paea noticed by several schools. Paea received scholarship offers from 13 Division 1 schools, including Brigham Young, Southern California, Oregon, Miami and Notre Dame, but the school that stood out among the rest was Michigan.

"Even though there were a lot of great programs that wanted me, it was a pretty clear choice," Paea said. "I'm from Michigan, born and raised here, and my relatives are all out west but my Mom and Dad are here. I wanted them to make every home game so just them being close to the school was big for me. They don't have to go halfway across the country just to watch me play football."

Dave LeVasseur of Pinconning was named Coach of the Year.

Voting was by a panel of AP member sportswriters from around the state.

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