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He played with heart

Westview football, wrestling star Paul Nishizaki left a legacy of competitiveness
by: JAIME VALDEZ, BIG MAN ON CAMPUS — Westview senior Paul Nishizaki made his senior football and wrestling seasons worth remembering, earning first-team All-Metro honors on both offense and defense in football and winning a second straight Metro title at heavyweight during wrestling.

Sometimes it's about being the fastest.

Sometimes it's about being able to throw the hardest or farthest.

Sometimes it's about knowing the most.

But sometimes, most of the time actually, it's about having the most heart, and that is where Westview's Paul Nishizaki really stood out.

Make no mistake - Nishizaki, a graduated senior who won All-Metro honors in football and wrestling for the Wildcats - often was the strongest and smartest and toughest guy on his team, but it was his heart that made him stand out.

Now, Nishizaki has one more thing that will help him stand out from his peers - he is the 2005-06 Beaverton Valley Times Male Athlete of the Year.

Nishizaki, 17 and headed to Linfield College to play football in the fall, said that it was his teammates and his teams' camaraderie that fueled his love of high schools sports.

'I'll always remember the team aspect of it,' said Nishizaki, who plans to study international business at Linfield. 'The team dinners were the best, and we all got along. Those were good times, good fun.'

There were good times aplenty during Nishizaki's high school career, both on the football field and on the wrestling mat. As a senior, Nishizaki won first-team All-Metro honors in football on both offense and defense (not to mention a third-team all-state mention on defense), and later won his second straight Metro heavyweight title in wrestling before advancing to the Class 4A state semifinals.

Despite his success in both arenas, Nishizaki explained that football was his greatest love.

'Wrestling has a lot more individual qualities to it. In wrestling, you can win but your team can still lose,' he said. 'In football, when you win, everybody wins.'

Nishizaki, who used his martial arts background (he has a black belt in Karate) to great success on the football field, and the Wildcats won a lot during his high school career, too. A starter since his sophomore season, Nishizaki and the Wildcats ended a five-year playoff drought in 2004 when they finished third in the Metro League, went 8-3 overall and pushed eventual state champion Sprague to the brink of elimination before finally losing on an Olympian touchdown with 37 seconds left in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

'We went to South Eugene and beat them (in the first round) and that was really great,' Nishizaki remembered. 'And then we played (Sprague) real close. That was what was really disappointing - we played them so close and then they go on and win the championship.'

The Wildcats were third again last fall (tied with Beaverton), but lost in the first round of the state playoffs to eventual state semifinalist Tualatin 27-21.

Though disappointed his teams never won the state title they'd worked so hard toward, Nishizaki had nothing but positive memories from his time on the gridiron, and he made sure to offer thanks to defensive line and wrestling coach Mike Dellerba.

'Our class had been together a long time, and both Cody (Kempt) and I started as sophomores,' he said. 'We were all pretty together. We had good team bonding. It helps a lot.'

Nishizaki's presence helped his team a lot, too.

'He was a team captain for obvious reasons and a great student-athlete,' Westview football coach Jon Evans said. 'Paul, as a defensive lineman, is probably the best we've ever had.'

His prowess, particularly on the defensive line, was a critical factor in his team's success the past two seasons.

'The last two years when we played No. 1(-ranked teams) Sprague and Tualatin, he gave us a chance because of what he could do up front,' Evans added. 'He would (absolutely) blow people up in the backfield.'

Nishizaki kept right on rolling in wrestling season, too, going undefeated at heavyweight in league for the second straight season and eventually winning his second consecutive Metro League title.

'Paul Nishizaki's impact to the wrestling program at Westview High School is unmeasurable,' said Westview wrestling coach Furl Kamaka'ala. He has a 'desire and personal commitment to be the best at what ever he does (and) he has been a humble leader and an inspiration for everyone in our program.'

As successful as he was on the wrestling mat - he reached the Class 4A quarterfinals as a junior and the semifinals as a senior - Nishizaki admits he always had mixed feelings about his second sport.

'Practice. I hated practice. Hands down,' he said. 'That's probably why I won't wrestle in college.'

Yet wrestle he did for four years of high school, and Nishizaki knew exactly why he was able to put up with the grueling practice regime that wrestlers face every day.

'Winning. That's probably the main reason I did it,' he said. 'I love going out there and at the end part where you pin the guy and the ref raises your hand - that's awesome. That made all the practice worth it.'

His enthusiasm on the mat clearly showed through, too.

'Because of his popularity in the Westview community, Paul unknowingly promoted Westview wrestling every time he stepped on the mat,' Kamaka'ala said. 'A lot of our students watched their first wrestling match just to see Paul wrestle.'

You can bet that Linfield will discover the same about Nishizaki in short order.