NEW WESTMINSTER — Lucas Sabau admits that for a number of seasons, he struggled to find who he truly was on the football field.
Yet his emergence over the past few seasons as a power-running fullback known as The Diesel has carried enough forward momentum that these days, any kind of identity crisis sits deep in his rearview mirror.
In fact Sabau, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior, cemented his power football persona last December by bulling his way into the end zone for the last-ditch two-point convert that gave the New Westminster Hyacks a 15-14 win over Terry Fox for the Subway Bowl B.C. AAA title at B.C. Place Stadium.
And now, after closing one chapter with the biggest play of his entire career thus far, Sabau will get the chance to impress in similar ways at the next level, joining what appears to be a completely new stable of running backs this fall at Simon Fraser University under new head coach Thomas Ford.
“I think he is a physical runner,” Ford said last week when asked about Sabau. “He is a guy who can get in between the tackles, make one cut and then get his pads down. He’s not a burner, but because of that physical nature of his, he was a great contrast when compared to the other B.C. kids.”
Sabau’s emergence in the Hyacks program included a stint as the starting quarterback back his ninth grade season.
Playing a linebacker role on defence throughout, Sabau found success on the Hyacks’ 2015 B.C. junior varsity AAA championship team as a fullback.
In 2016, called on to take the majority of the team’s carries, he opened his senior varsity career in 11th grade as the Hyacks’ leading rusher with 991 yards and nine touchdowns on 131 carries.
This past season, however, as Sabau shared carries with fellow senior running back Sammy Sidhu on what was a roster much deeper with talent, his numbers dropped to 67 carries, 471 yards, three touchdowns.
“I will be honest, it took me a while to find my identity,” Sabau said earlier this week. “I think that in Grade 11, I finally saw what my potential could be. I am runner and I felt that I broke out. But it’s not about the stats. In Grade 12, I played more both ways and it was, for me, all about helping my team the best way I could.”
Now, with his focus on doing exactly the same for the Clan next season, Sabau is taking nothing for granted as he trains with a pair of teammates.
“In terms of transitioning into university football, I feel like I have the fundamental skills and the quick burst,” he begins. “I think right now (coach Ford) sees that I can be a guy to get tough yards. But I want to work on my overall stamina more. I feel like I am good hitting the hole, but I want my final burst towards the end to get better.”
To that end, Hyack teammates Sabau, tight end Finn Stark (Toronto) and lineman Isaiah James (Saskatchewan) are training together three times a week with an eye towards enhancing their overall explosiveness.
Still, he’s not a one-trick pony. Ask New Westminster head coach Farhan Lalji about Sabau’s greatest attributes, and he says that the guy wearing No. 12 is not just a bull in a china shop.
“You can look at the body and think he is just a bruiser,” says Lalji, “but he is as much a finesse player as he is a physical player. He has good vision and the ability to read blocks.
Just how much opportunity Sabau will get, at least initially, to put that vision to use isn’t known.
Like all freshmen, he will need to add more muscle, and from a technique standpoint, his ability to lead block could determine early on how much time he spends on the field.
Ford just loves the attitude Sabau has shown, and feels in the end, it can carry the day.
“I think with what we are trying to build through competition, Lucas is a guy who understands all of that,” said Ford. “In 2016, he was a provincial all-star, but in his senior year he wasn’t. He lost some carries from the year before. But he is so fully committed to competing that I think he’ll almost just absorb our new culture through osmosis. It should be a smooth transition.”
This past season, heading into the B.C. championship final, the Hyacks had been good on 13-of-15 two-point convert plays, all to either Sidhu or Broxx Comia, and all sweeps to the right.
Trailing by a point and attempting to pull the school’s first B.C. title out of the fire on that final play of 2017 season, Hyacks’ offensive coordinator Andrew McKechnie opted to go left, and to the give the ball to Sabau.
“I figured that I would block but when I heard that I would get the ball, I didn’t panic,” remembers Sabau. “I just said ‘OK, this is it. I am going to score now. There is no way anyone is going to stop me.’”
If Lucas Sabau didn’t know who he was as a football player before that moment, he does now.
“And I am blessed to be getting another opportunity,” he says of an impending NCAA career with the Clan. “Coach Ford just has this energy. He’s got a skip in his step. I just want to win for this guy.”
(We’ll feature more SFU football recruits in the lead-up to the team’s 2018 season-opening game Sept. 1 at home to Willamette University.)
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