Benji Palu was 14 when he made the most important discovery of his football life.
Admittedly in a little bit over his head when he was called up to Burlingame High’s varsity as a freshman, Palu needed to find a way to keep up with players who were bigger, stronger, faster and more advanced.
Realizing that he had to channel all of his intensity into every play, it was on a practice field that he found his “high motor.”
“I believe I developed the ‘high motor’ playing against guys that were older than me,” said Palu, who’s now a junior two-way lineman.
“It gave me a reality check,” he said. “It woke me up and showed me, this is what I need to do, that this is the level I need to play at.”
The high motor enabled him to keep up. Palu held his own as a freshman and emerged as an impact player his sophomore year.
Palu, a 6-foot, 275-pounder hopes to impart the spirit of “high motor” to his younger teammates as he assumes a leadership role this season. Palu is the only returning starter on a Panthers team that suffered heavy graduation losses.
Burlingame opens its season with a non-league game at Saratoga on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“The heart, I can’t give them,” Palu said, “but I tell them that the game of football is played with a high motor and that they need to come out with a high motor.”
The “high motor” is part of what makes Palu among the Peninsula Athletic League’s best linemen on either side of the ball, Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos said.
“He’s just a really good all-around player with a great work ethic and a good attitude,” Philipopoulos said.
Palu has excellent aptitude and plays a fundamentally sound technical game, which Philipopoulos attributes to his Pop Warner football background.
Philipopoulos had to file a petition with the Central Coast Section when he wanted to bring him up to the varsity because he was younger than 15 at the time.
“It was obvious that he was beyond the frosh-soph level physically and mentally,” Philipopoulos said of the decision bring Palu up to the varsity two years ago.
Palu is a Division I prospect, Philipopoulos said, noting that he projects to play center in college. Palu plays guard on the offensive and defensive lines.
Palu said he’s wanted to play Division I ball since he was in eighth grade. He’s partial to the Pac-12 Conference, noting that USC, Stanford, Cal, Oregon and UCLA, are among his favorites.
He plans to major in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, and eventually wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, following in the footsteps of an uncle he lives with who’s a probation officer.
“I like the tenacity of all the guys and the high motor they all play with,” he said of the Pac-12. “I could find myself quickly adapting to it. I think I’d be able to play with them.”
When Palu was initially called up to the varsity, coaches took note of how he handled himself on and off the field, Philipopoulos said.
“He showed me that we had something special,” the coach said.
Palu said he was embraced by his older teammates when he joined the varsity as a freshman, who apparently respected his ultra-intense playing style.
“Everyday I went out there as a freshman on the varsity thinking I had something to prove,” he said. “(The older players) competed against me, but in the end I always went out with a high motor knowing that if I was going to go head-up with one of my teammates I would go full speed as if I was playing a regular Friday night game.”