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Kids are the most honest and direct of all of us. You never have to wonder what they are thinking. Unconcerned, you might say even oblivious, to social customs, they spit it out.

Saturday morning at the Blue Chip Football Camp at Montgomery High School, Koa Misi stood in front of 180 kids. While he did receive an enthusiastic ovation for being the 40th overall pick in the June NFL draft, the kids weren't going to give the former Montgomery star a free ride.

"You gonna play the Raiders this year?"

"Yes," said Misi innocently, who has a better than a good chance of starting at outside linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. Poor Koa. He walked right into this one.

"You're gonna get crushed," came the youthful reply.

The reply was like starting a forest fire.

"When you play the Saints, do they kill you?" said a kid not quite grasping that Misi has yet to play in the NFL.

"Did you get your butt beat?" asked another, working hard that Raider theme.

Welcome to the NFL, Koa, where even the kids have attitude.

Of course, if Misi couldn't stand the heat, he wouldn't be in this kitchen. Football provides all kind of heat, from the physical contact to the strategy to the prerequisite athleticism to that feeling this is where Misi belongs, on the football field.

"I'm ready for the contact," Misi said. "The OTAs (organized team activity) just don't do it for me. That's when you can tell who can play football and who can't. What can be better than playing football and hitting someone?"

If Misi can't play football -- and he won't until July 29 when he reports to the Dolphins' training camp -- then what he did Saturday at Montgomery is probably the next best thing. Talking about the game, sumo wrestling with Frank Scalercio Jr., saying hello to all the homies who have known him since he was a rugrat, Misi was home in the truest and purest sense of the word.

"This is where I started to love football," Misi told the kids. He was 10 when his dad, Sione, allowed him to first play. It was Frank Scalercio's Blue Chip Camp, now in its 24th year, where Koa Misi, 10, found the game that seemed so completely fulfilling to him.

"I didn't allow Koa to play until he was 10 because I wanted him to play the other sports that would develop his agility and quickness," said Sione, once a college football player himself at Hawaii. "The contact, I knew that would come naturally."

The adoration of NFL players came naturally, too, for Misi, especially when his first real exposure to a pro was Jesse Sapolu, the 49ers' former offensive lineman. Sapolu was Sione Misi's mentor at Hawaii, two years older, and the two became fast friends. Sapolu, and this is not a coincidence, was truly one of the best pros the 49ers ever had, a professional in every sense of the word -- hard-working, responsible, intelligent, not a finger-pointer, and this incredibly fast block of granite.

Sapolu came up to Santa Rosa once to play slow-pitch softball with his college buddy against local law enforcement at Howarth Park. Sapolu looked at young Koa and asked him if he would run the bases after he hit the ball. Sapolu didn't have to ask twice.

"I thought to myself, 'A NFL player is asking me to run the bases for him' " Koa said Saturday. "I thought it was so cool. He was my idol and I was doing something for him."

As Sione later asked Koa to "surround yourself with good people," his son didn't have to look far for an example. It is a mindset that the father repeated over and over to his son, an attitude that was easy to absorb because of the man who exemplified it.

So when I lifted my left arm Saturday, put it on Misi's shoulder and said, "Be aware of South Beach," I was surprised and gratified at Misi's reply. South Beach in South Florida is a hedonist's dream, sorta like Vegas with water. For someone unschooled in its temptations, South Beach can and has brought down many with a high profile.

Misi paused for a second, then gave this response: "I really don't like it. It's just the atmosphere. I'd rather stay in Fort Lauderdale and on Las Olas Boulevard."

Misi, 23, went to Santa Rosa High School for his first two years and Montgomery for the next two. He stayed out of football before going to SRJC for a year before going to University of Utah for his last three years.

This travelogue is important for one simple reason: Misi is connected Sonoma County in the most knowable of ways. Around here, people wouldn't be surprised to learn Misi doesn't cotton to South Beach. People around here feel like they know him, like him and trust that he will not have his head and character turned by NFL fame and fortune.

The lure will be there all right. Misi will not be able to move around East Las Olas unnoticed. The Dolphins began a summer promotion with a poster, a picture of four Miami players emerging from the water in uniform with the words: "Here We Come." One of the four players is Misi. The poster, of course, was made after Miami got a good look at Misi in its OTAs.

"They put me right in there and wanted to see how I handled it," Misi said. This is a common team reaction for someone drafted in the second round. "I think I did all right."

With the team practically begging Misi to be a dominant pass rusher, Misi began the first of the Dolphins' OTAs as a second-string strong-side outside linebacker. He was quickly elevated to a starter. To stay there will have more to do with just having ability. It will have to do with Misi keeping the eye on the prize, a satisfying, long-term NFL career -- and not keeping an eye on the mirror, seeing how pretty he is for the South Florida clubs.

That self-indulgence, well, seemed as likely as monkeys singing show tunes -- after Misi told me what he wouldn't do with his uniform number.

Misi will wear No. 55 for the Dolphins. He knows of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, No. 85, who changed his name to Chad Ochocinco, because Chad likes to draw a crowd inasmuch as Chad likes himself an awful lot.

"So I guess I know you've changed if you change your name to Koa Cincocinco," I asked.

Misi didn't say a word because he was laughing . . . and laughing . . . and laughing. It was one of those deep, guttural laughs that can only come from realizing something absurd. Eventually Misi was able to shake his head. That was his only response.

Misi knows the only change from age 10 to age 23 is physical. Mentally he's the same because he has made it a point to surround himself with good people, and he has found a lot of good people in Sonoma County.

"It's crazy to remember," Misi said before he spoke to the 180 kids, "that I was this small once."

Misi looked at the kids and stared. In retrospect Misi wasn't staring at the kids as much as the memory of when he was here, only 10, when he looked up to someone, a guy named Sapolu.

Sapolu didn't disappoint young Misi and it's not a stretch to think Misi would like to return the favor, not to Sapolu, but to these 180 kids, even if some of them are Raider fans.

For more on North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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