All Scott Pagano wanted to do is run with the big dogs. But he had no idea how big those dogs would get.
Pagano started playing football in the eighth grade, but didn’t get serious about it until his freshman year. He started out as a quarterback — that lasted just a week — and tried linebacker and tight end before coaches put him on the D-line. He has been there ever since, but it took longer than he wanted.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Pagano, who chose Clemson over a loaded list of college suitors, had one goal after practicing with the Moanalua varsity early in his career. He wanted to run with the big men on campus.
But Pagano was not ready. He was big, but not big enough. He had skills, but they were too raw. After such high hopes and what he thought was a good summer and fall, Pagano was told he would play his sophomore season on the junior varsity, where he belonged.
"I was a little disappointed, but I understood," Pagano said. "I knew. I knew I probably wasn’t ready for varsity, so that summer I worked my butt off. I mean I really, really worked to make the varsity."
Coaches spend all fall telling players that their team will succeed or fail based on the sweat they spent over the spring and summer. They say it enough to make teenagers tune them out. But this is one example of when the man with the whistle knows the tune.
"We brought him up to work with the varsity, just took him to practice, and he truly didn’t make it," Moanalua coach Arnold Martinez said. "We knew he was going to be good, but we thought he needed more time. He needed to keep honing his skills. I like to think it made him hungry. He does live and die with football now."
That hunger earned Pagano a scholarship from Clemson, after he turned down the likes of Alabama, LSU and USC.
"It was tough," Pagano said. "But when the school I wanted came open it made it easy. Really, I was blessed to be able to even choose. Clemson just kind of felt like a community, like Moanalua."
After a standout season on the JV and a summer with a purpose, Pagano became one of the most feared defensive linemen in the state. Opposing coaches knew of his exploits on JV, but the kid still had something to prove. He was single-teamed the first two times he lined up with the varsity, but once league play began, the fun and games were over. Pagano says he has not been one-on-one with a blocker since.
"I like it because they give me respect and say I am pretty good and try to take me out of the play," Pagano said. "The part I don’t like, though, is it is tough to have two or three big O-linemen on me. If I get double-teamed it is a plus for me and my teammates."
For fans hoping to see the kid who spurned the top teams in the nation in favor of a great program that strives to be superior, Pagano’s next show is Friday at home against Castle. He might thrill the crowd; he has before. But more than likely, unless they are college coaches or well-versed in the technical aspects of the game, fans will leave wanting more. Such are the expectations of a four-star recruit.
Pagano was the focus of all of Kailua’s attention in Moanalua’s win last Friday, and he made few tackles and no sacks despite lining up in all four spots on the line. But Na Menehune won in part because of the distinct advantage Pagano gave them. Pagano drew enough triple teams against the Surfriders that all he had to do a few times is fall to the ground only to find the entire right side of the offensive line falling down on top of him.
Castle coach Nelson Maeda gets to try to solve the puzzle Pagano presents this week, but he sees a bigger problem for his small offensive line than one freak with a mean streak.
"They move Pagano around inside and outside, which makes it difficult," Maeda said. "They are very physical, quick and run to the ball well. Pagano and company have done very well against bigger lines, it will be a challenge for our smaller linemen to minimize their bigs’ impact."
Maeda says Moanalua defensive tackle Rata Mafileo and inside linebacker Demarr J. Leatimua get as much attention during film study this week as Pagano does, and that’s how everyone on the Moanalua side likes it. Pagano exploded as a junior, mostly because of the talent around him. In reality, he could probably play any position on the field and excel.
"He’s so athletic, even when we had him as a freshman in P.E. you could see it," Martinez said. "He could run, catch and throw. He had a feel for what he could do, but he wanted to be where he could help the team the most, and we thought that would be on the line."