NEW WESTMINSTER — Deep down inside, he always knew that he was reaching for something.
If Severio Asaba could best describe what that was, he might call it his wildest dreams, the kind of stuff so precious that it will never fall into just any old pair of waiting hands.
It’s only available to those willing to take a leap of faith, to those who trust that the countless common hours of practice will ultimately elevate you to that place where you are ready to meet your moment.
And so, at the zenith of an entire season, with chaos, uncertainty and panic rippling through the ranks, a kid who worked to pay his own rent by serving up movie theatre popcorn, was suddenly thrust into the role of leading man.
“I have watched the film, and there are three people around me,” says Asaba, the New Westminster Hyacks senior defensive safety, whom fate dictated become a wide receiver on B.C. high school football’s final play from scrimmage in 2017.
“It’s crazy to think about something like that,” he continued of making the game’s defining play, a 19-yard touchdown catch with no time remaining on the game clock in the B.C. AAA final. “It’s like it came out of a movie, and if you tell anyone how it happened, 90 per cent of them don’t believe you.”
But know this: Severio Asaba’s first-ever senior varsity football catch not only came on the final snap of his high school career, but went for a touchdown, allowing his equally-heroic teammate Lucas Sabau to carry for a two-point convert, giving the Hyacks a 15-14 win over Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens for the school’s first-ever Subway Bowl B.C. championship title.
What followed, from the Hyacks’ perspective, was completely organic and unscripted: New Westminster players and coaches in tears, their fans in a state of shock.
Yet to No. 11, it went so much deeper.
More deep than when he held his two arms into the air amidst the celebration, unconsciously mimicking the arms which only moments earlier had created one of the most dramatic moments in the entire canon of B.C. high school sports history.
“Before I found football, I wasn’t into anything,” the 17-year-old Asaba would later recount. “I was the kind of guy that just gave up on everything.”
Football, thankfully, gave him something to reach for.
A MAGNET IN HIS HYACK HEART
Severio Asaba was not born into a life of privilege.
Raised, along with his siblings, by his mother Melinda, there has been a constant theme throughout his high school life of potential relocation from the Royal City to be with his mom.
Yet like those out-stretched arms, there was always a sense of outreach in Asaba himself, a need to connect on a larger scale within his high school community, or more precisely, within the New Westminster Hyacks’ football family.
“We went through (football) training at the end of Grade 8, but then into the summer, before I started Grade 9, my mom told me that we would have to move.
“I begged her to let me stay,” Asaba continued, wanting to remain behind as a 14-year-old to play on the football team but instead having to spend his entire school year in Penticton where his mother had found work. “Then I told my mom that in one year’s time, I wanted to move back and play on the football team.”
Despite his neophyte status the following season, Asaba’s return to the Hyacks for the 2015 season helped New Westminster win the B.C. Triple A junior varsity provincial title, a game in which he came away with an interception.
And although he has remained at New Westminster ever since, it has not been easy.
Following the JV title, he spent the winter break of that year in Grand Forks, where his mom had relocated, thinking he would have to once again leave the Hyacks.
He then spent time living first with his grandfather and later his aunt in the New Westminster area, but just before the end of the current football season, the situation dictated that he could no longer stay with the latter.
And thus on the morning of Dec. 2, he awoke on a couch at the home of his close friend Patrick before heading off to play the biggest football game of life.
PASTA, PENCILS AND PIGSKIN
Severio Asaba will not turn 18 until May, yet he has balanced decidedly adult responsibilities for a number of years, including holding a night job to pay for rent and help with his expenses.
“There have been days when people have told me that there are so many things that I just can’t do,” says Asaba, who is enrolled in NWSS’ SIGMA program, which provides a more personalized learning experience for 16-to-18-year-olds. “I wish I could tell them to live a day in my life. I never miss (school) assignments and I take pride in the fact that I am able to stay on top of everything.”
Up early for class, followed by football practice and games, then off to his night job, often times arriving back home at 1 a.m. where he would insure he wasn’t missing assignments, then getting back up in the morning to do it all over again.
“And he handles all of that with the adult pressure that comes along with it, and he does it to survive,” says New Westminster head coach Farhan Lalji who also feels Asaba’s focus has been enhanced by his determination to succeed as a student-athlete.
“When he first started here, he was a kid that needed a ton of direction,” continued Lalji. “He had some ability but he needed to learn work ethic. Once he learned that, it allowed him to deal with all of the other circumstances in his life. If you come to practice and then have to go straight to work three-or-four times a week, there is some work ethic involved.”
Over the earlier part of the fall, that work included Asaba’s job at New Westminster’s Landmark Cinema multiplex located in the Westminster Quay district.
Recently, he’s changed jobs, and now works as an expeditor at Piva Modern Italian, a restaurant located at New West Station.
“I wasn’t into it before, but once I got the love of Italian food, I love all different kinds of pastas now, and I can’t deny myself at any time,” laughs Asaba, who serves as a liason between the kitchen and the food servers.
HAIL THE (K.C.) CHIEFS
Like any game-winning drive worthy of history, no one play can be rightly singled out over another in terms of its actual importance to the whole.
And thus New Westminster’s 80-yard march which began with 2:34 remaining and the team trailing 14-7 is in fact an oil painting in which every block, shift, snap, juke, fake, block, curl, run and catch serves as its own unique brushstroke within the finished canvas.
Yet while a 13-yard run by quarterback Kinsale Philip and a 16-yard completion from Philip to Matthew Lalim, both on fourth down, were a survival-essential beginning to the drive, the final two completions which allowed Sabau to churn home the winning points on the conversion, were like a galaxy unto themselves, inexorably linked in terms of Asaba’s ability to remain on the field.
How did it all happen? Well, to first hail the Hyacks, you must first hail the Chiefs. The Kansas City Chiefs.
Back on Nov. 5, one of the highlights of that day’s NFL Sunday was a 56-yard quasi-Hail Mary-fade play on the final play of the first half in which Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill took a pass in the soft underbelly of Dallas defence from quarterback Alex Smith, and in a prevent situation by the Cowboys, followed a convoy of three blockers into the end zone.
Various members of the Hyacks coaching staff saw the play, and for over three weeks it percolated.
“Dimitri Golimbonis, our receivers’ coach, suggested it to me the day before (the Dec. 2 Subway final) so we practiced it for the first time during the Friday walk through,” said Lalji, who ultimately called the play which asked Philip to find Reid on a short pass.
The key here?
New Westminster needed three of its best mobile blocking types to cut a swath for Reid, and because of that, the safety Asaba was pushed into a late role on offence.
“Truthfully, we did a poor job of executing it because two of the three blockers missed their blocks and Sébastien didn’t really sell the fade/Hail Mary before stopping,” admitted Lalji of the play which broke down at the Terry Fox 19-yard line with one second remaining. “But obviously, in hindsight, it worked out for the better because if Sébastien took two or three more steps before getting tackled, we would have run out of time.”
The game clock had initially showed no time remaining, and thus Terry Fox players who had thought the game was over, were forced to get back in the huddle for the last play.
New Westminster, from its perspective, had no time to sub in any players.
And what was one of the remarkable aspects of the touchdown pass? While Lalji did send in a play, in the frenzy of the moment, it appears the bigger emphasis was placed on simply snapping the ball.
“We weren’t going to take a chance for the last play,” recounts Lalji. “But I don’t think Kinsale called a play. Tony Dillman, our centre, just snapped the ball.”
In all of the chaos, the only adjustment Lalji made was to have Asaba switch to an inside spot so that the more accomplished receiver Reid could go outside.
“But the big shock was that Kinsale didn’t throw it to Sebastien,” says Lalji.
Philip himself said immediately following the game that Asaba was his target, despite the fact that No. 11 had never made a catch at the high school varsity level.
“I knew exactly who I was throwing that ball to,” Philip later said with a joyous laugh. “I saw my man Sev. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s been through so much in his life. He took that ball, squeezed it with his fingers, and he brought it down. Touchdown. I knew he would make that play.”
Three weeks later, Asaba is still trying to come to grips with what happened.
“I see one second (left),” Asaba said of the moments leading up to the final play. “So at that moment I am thinking there is no way we are losing. Then I see Fox helmets flying and refs waiving their hands in the air and they start pushing them back on the sidelines. All I hear is one second, and coach telling us to line up.”
After switching spots at the line of scrimmage with Reid, the safety-turned-receiver prepared himself.
“I don’t know if there was a play called,” he admits. “I didn’t hear a call. I just knew that I had to run straight to the end zone, that I had to make it into the end zone. The whole thing, it was all just instinct.”
That is Asaba’s way of saying that deep down, he always knew he was reaching for something.
“I actually looked over at Kinsale, I saw him on his back foot and I just thought ‘I need to jump higher and then secure the ball. I didn’t even know it was into triple coverage.”
The Ravens were understandably gutted by the loss.
One season after winning Subway Bowl on a walk-off field goal, they had been handed defeat in the cruelest possible way.
For his part, Asaba felt it important to talk about the merits of his catch, one which some felt wasn’t a catch.
“Everyone comes up to me, and they greet me with ‘What an amazing play at the end’ and ‘You jumped higher than everyone else. Your waist was at their heads,’ he says. “I just couldn’t believe how high I got up there.
“The answer to the real question, though, is no, it was never a drop,” he continues. “And that part is really important to me. I secured it. I just know it wasn’t a drop. That part of it never got to me. I am 100 per cent confident.”
WITH OUT-STRETCHED ARMS…
Severio Asaba did everything in his power over the last three seasons to pull on a New Westminster Hyacks game-day jersey, and fittingly, he has left an indelible imprint on the program.
“Our (championship) rings are going to have two hands going up to catch the ball, and those are his hands,” Lalji says. “And it’s on our championship t-shirts, too. Those are his hands going up to catch the ball.”
But more than the tangibles surrounding The Catch are the intangibles gleaned through all of those common hours of practice, ones which always have a way of becoming uncommon through the passing of years.
Not everyone has to work a night job and be away from their mom just to enjoy the kinship of the high school sports experience.
Asaba thirsted to do it because to him, there was a power to belonging to something bigger than himself.
“These guys were family to me, and every single time, if the first thing we said wasn’t ‘Hyacks’, it was ‘Family,’” said Asaba who said he would love to continue to play football at the next level if the chance presents itself next season or beyond. “It was because of that brotherhood and that trust that I knew I couldn’t drop that pass.”
And so he held on. Yet even still, the events of that night at B.C. Place Stadium are overwhelming.
“Even now, all I think to myself is that it doesn’t make sense how we won,” he said. “Every day I am still prepared to go down to the field and practice. It’s hard to think that it’s over.”
That’s what it’s supposed to feel like when reach so hard for something, then one day catch it.
That’s what it must feel like to realize you’re holding your wildest dreams.
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