His heart pounds, his muscles twitch. With kickoff just minutes away, the national anthem plays and Jeff Gouveia gears up for another Auburn...
AUBURN — His heart pounds, his muscles twitch.
With kickoff just minutes away, the national anthem plays and Jeff Gouveia gears up for another Auburn High School football game. Dozens of family members and friends fill the stands, his private cheering section, but at this moment his mind focuses on the one who isn’t there, his father.
“Dad, I’m playing for you, always, when I’m out here,” he says to himself, part of his pregame ritual. “I pray you’re praying for me. I hope you’re all right. I hope one day you can come out and see me play.”
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Gouveia remembers his father watching him play junior football, but never at Auburn, where he has developed into one of the area’s top linebackers with the fifth-ranked, unbeaten Trojans. His father has been in and out of prison most of his son’s life and currently is at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, serving the final part of a 22-month sentence for two counts of theft. His expected release date is in early 2009.
Gouveia has a large, closely knit family held together by his biggest fan, his mother, Ana Manumaleuna. Their small, two-bedroom apartment is full of family, including his 8-month-old twin nieces. He shares his room with his adopted brother, Jay Payne, a fellow Auburn senior. His mother shares hers with her youngest daughter, Dajonae, a 15-year-old sophomore at Auburn. Older sister Anjelika, 20, regularly stops by with the babies and her fiancé, Gaston Shelton, a former football and wrestling standout at Auburn. Older brother Travis, 23, is frequently home, too.
But Gouveia misses his father, especially on game nights.
“It hurts not having my dad there, just around the house,” Gouveia said, “and I want him to watch me play. I want him there for me. He’s a big part of my life. I just always think about him when I play.”
Those pregame thoughts fuel his inner fire on the football field, and Gouveia can’t wait for that first hit.
“It gets me really pumped up,” he said.
Gouveia, also a bruising fullback, leads the South Puget Sound League 4A in scoring with 87 points. When his efforts make the headlines, he’s especially happy because he clips the articles and sends them to his dad. The two talk regularly and got to spend a fair amount of time together over the summer when his father was at a work-release facility in Olympia. Before that, however, it had been “a couple years” since they’d seen each other, Gouveia said.
Manumaleuna, who was born in Western Samoa, met Jeff’s father in Hawaii in 1986, when she already had Travis. They married two years later and moved to Washington in 1990. By 1997, they were separated.
His father, who is Portuguese and Puerto Rican, had been imprisoned several times by then, mostly for theft and trafficking in stolen property. Alcohol and drug addictions have played a major role in his criminal history, Manumaleuna said.
The divorce was final in 2004 and while she has no contact with him, she doesn’t discourage her children from communicating with him.
“I know they love their dad,” said Manumaleuna, who recently gave up her graveyard shift as a waitress to return to school. “I think they’re a lot like me, forgiving. It’s hard to forgive and it’s hard to forget. That’s a challenge.”
Gouveia, also a starter on the Auburn basketball team, has a lot to forgive. Every time his dad was out of prison, he thought for sure he’d be out to stay. Time and time again, he was disappointed.
“He’d stay [out] for a couple of months or something, then he’d get in trouble or get caught up with whatever he does with his friends, or bad stuff,” he said.
The last time his dad was arrested, Gouveia found out about it while watching the news.
“That hurt me a lot, because it seemed like he was changing,” he said.
He said he tries not to think about the things his dad has done and his addictions.
“It makes me sad,” Gouveia said. “I’m not dumb. I know what he does. I just try to blank it out and think, ‘Oh, he did something wrong. Everyone makes mistakes.’ Some more than others.”
He met Payne, his adopted brother, in seventh grade, and the two discovered they have a lot in common. Payne said he hasn’t seen his father for seven or eight years.
“Whenever I was down about my family, I could always talk to Jeff, because he knew exactly where I was coming from,” said Payne, the younger brother of Nneka Payne, a star for the Auburn girls basketball team last season. “He’d always say, ‘Keep your head up. You’ve got me, you’ve got my family, and we’re always going to be here.’ “
Payne said he knows how much it hurts Gouveia not to have his father at his football games.
“But before every game when they do ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ he’s out there praying for his dad,” he said, “and that’s all you can give right there.”
Gouveia, who hopes to play football in college, said his father encourages him to do well in school and make good choices, to lead his life differently than his own.
“He always wants me to do better,” he said.
And all Jeff Gouveia wants is for his father to watch him play football again one day.
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