Mikey Te'o played 7s for Belmont Shore last season, but he couldn't crack the first team roster. He came back out this summer and was a shoe-in to make the first 12, but didn't start immediately.
Then starting scrumhalf Iopu Sanonu went down with a knee injury, and Te'o, who played hooker, center and wing for Belmont's 15s team, stepped in at scrumhalf.
In his first tournament starting at the position, Belmont won their only Southern California qualifier. Sunday Te'o was awarded the MVP trophy at the Club 7s National Championships after leading Belmont to a second-straight National Title from scrumhalf.
"I stepped in and we won that tournament, and ever since I've been practicing scrumhalf," said the freshly turned 19-year-old.
"It's fun. I like it. I like watching the pros, like Uale Maie from Manu Samoa. He's like my idol. I always watch him on Youtube and learn from him."
Like Mai, Te'o can be a punishing defender. Sure, he wowed the crowd last weekend in San Francisco with an impressive jump step and deceivingly elusive running. But one of the biggest moments of the tournament for Te'o came on defense.
In the final, Chicago Lions were in desperate need of a score, and they got a break. But Te'o was sweeping, and he made a try-saving tackle, got up and made another on the Lion who took possession from his first victim. The sequence kept Chicago off the board and killed any budding momentum.
"When he plays defense like that, that's just heart," said Belmont Shore coach James Walker. "You can coach, but you can't coach motor and you can't coach ticker and that was just outstanding."
"They say defense wins championships and the battle's won in the back," said Te'o.
"Defense, it's all team. I was at sweeper. I had plenty of time to catch my breath, so on offense I'm all dancing and jittery and having fun. But when you have to make a tackle, it's hit or miss, and you have to make the hit."
The National Championship and MVP award perpetuate what has been an amazing 2012 for Te'o, as he won the 15s National Title with Belmont in June and the Junior World Trophy with the U20s shortly thereafter. Which championship has been the most rewarding?
"You can't rank them," said Te'o. "This is number one right now, because it's in the moment, but it's all been fun."