They started the tournament by gathering in unison and performing a fiery Polynesian war chant that resonated throughout Ralph Lewis Sports Park in Fontana. They ended the tournament by yelling the chant one more time – as a way to celebrate their Passing Down So Cal Regional championship.
Team AIGA – coached by Troy Lau and comprising of mostly under the radar players from San Diego, Bellflower and Orange County – cleared the gauntlet and took home the title at Passing Down’s kickoff tournament on Saturday, Feb. 13, knocking off red-hot Team Apex 20-0 in the title game.
“It was fun coming out here and playing with my boys. We came out here balling like we’re supposed to do,” said Tyrel Thomas, who earned Most Valuable Player honors.
Thomas, who said he’s naturally a cornerback and stars at state powerhouse St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, helped seal AIGA’s championship run in the final minutes on offense. He was called back into the huddle, lined up at the slot (inside) position, then executed a whip route in the back of the end zone for the door-slamming touchdown.
He wasn’t the only one making plays for AIGA. In the championship contest, big 6-foot-1, 219-pound linebacker Ezekiel Noa stepped in front of a short throw and rumbled his way for the pick six. The ‘backer from Helix High in La Mesa currently holds offers from Colorado and Washington State. At wide receiver, highly-touted Terrell Bynum of Servite High in Anaheim and Stephon Blaylock of Bosco kept AIGA’s offensive momentum going throughout the entire tournament by hauling down some crucial grabs, especially ones near the sidelines.
Even though AIGA had impact players from Southern California filling out their roster, Thomas believes that his team was an underdog heading into the tournament; which gave them their championship edge.
“Being the underdogs, that’s what we do: ball until we shine,” Thomas said. “We just came together as a team and made some plays. We made some defensive plays, caught the ball in traffic, we came together as a team and made no mistakes. We’re a family. We’re Team AIGA family.”
AIGA’s win also clinched them a spot in Passing Down’s 7th Annual 'Best of the West' Finals on April 24th. Joining them in Orange County will be Team Apex, Team OC Elite Gold and Team Rhare Breed Congo.