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College QB Throws His Weight Around

September 24, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Neo Aoga looks like a lineman, and that’s exactly what his Azusa Pacific teammates thought he was.

Then they watched the 300-pound quarterback throw, and could hardly believe it.

``Everybody’s mouths just dropped,″ Azusa Pacific star Jack Williams said.

Williams and Aoga are old friends. Williams ran into him by chance last spring and told him the Cougars needed an experienced quarterback. And the defending NAIA national champions found their man, a very big man.

``The first time I saw him, I said, `Man, this guy’s huge,′ and he is,″ said Peter Shinnick, first-year coach of the school 25 miles east of Los Angeles. ``But I watched him run around a little bit, saw he could move around a little bit, he could throw, everything’s good.″

Still working off the rust of a three-year layoff, Aoga said Thursday he’s down to around 275 pounds after weighing a hefty 309 when preseason practice began six weeks ago.

``It was mostly a lot of water weight,″ he said. ``It’s still a lot of weight. I’m pretty sure I’ll be around 255 or 260 by the end of the season.″

Aoga is 6-foot-2 1/2 and Shinnick his quarterback’s ideal weight is probably around 250, but added, ``At 250, he’d probably look thin.″

Aoga has completed 44 of 91 passes for 707 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions to help the Azusa Pacific get off to a 2-1 start.

Aoga, 26, signed with Utah out of high school in 1991, but never played for the Utes. He led national junior college power Long Beach City College to terrific seasons in 1994-95. As a 260-pounder, passed for 1,632 yards for NCAA Division II Missouri Western State in 1996.

``I just didn’t feel it was the right fit for me,″ he said of his decision to leave the Missouri school before his senior year. ``I didn’t expect to play football after that.″

And so, in Aoga’s words, ``I just got big.″

Among other things, he worked as a bank teller for 10 months, and coached at Long Beach Community College before resuming his playing career.

Aoga first met Williams at Long Beach CC in 1994. Earlier this year he and Williams happened to be working out in the school’s weight room.

``He asked me what I was doing,″ Aoga said. ``He suggested I check out Azusa Pacific. I had thought about playing again somewhere. It was just a fluke, he was there that one day. It was like heaven sent.″

He immediately impressed the coaches and players.

``When I got out there, I just got a little adrenaline flowing, and started throwing it good,″ he said.

The NCAA requires athletes to use their four years of eligibility in five years after starting college. The NAIA has a four-year eligibility rule but no time frame. So after taking a few summer school classes, Aoga became eligible.

``I’m having a lot of fun,″ he said. ``I’m a 26-year-old stuck in a 19-year-old mind, I don’t act 26.

``Right now, I’m just playing very average for me. I’ll get everything down by the middle of the season. We’re winning, and I’m playing average, so that’s a good sign.″

Williams, the NAIA player of the year in 1998 while playing running back and strong safety, said people are shocked by Aoga’s quickness.

``I was always taught not to underestimate,″ Williams said. ``With him, it’s hard not to.

``Sometimes, he still amazes me, the way he can just throw it in between two defenders and hit a guy in the chest, the way he can read defenses.″

Of Aoga’s size, the 5-11, 205-pound Williams said: ``His calves are like my thighs. He just has huge legs.″

Aoga said he’d love to get a shot at playing professionally, and it might happen. Because of Williams, who’s considered a pro prospect as a defensive back, several NFL scouts have watched Azusa Pacific this month.

Aoga wouldn’t be the first player from the school to make it in the NFL. The most notable is Christian Okoye, who led the league in rushing 10 years ago with the Kansas City Chiefs.

``They like what they see in Neo,″ Shinnick said. ``They’re intrigued because of his quick release and arm strength. He’s playing good now, but he’s got to play great, that’s the bottom line. He’s a gifted athlete, no doubt.″