A family affair
Football is serious for the Niuteis
By Zach Duncan /Times Record News
June 14, 2006
But what the Euless Trinity defensive lineman's relatives take most seriously is football.
If anybody needs proof, just hang around during Thanksgiving, when you'll see Niutei, some uncles and many of his 20 cousins battling it out in the backyard.
"Football's real big in my family. It's a big deal to us," said the TCU signee, who will represent Texas in Saturday's 69th annual Oil Bowl.
There's a perfectly good reason for that.
Niutei's uncle, Vai Sikahema, played eight seasons in the NFL, earning two Pro Bowl berths as a special teams' standout.
Another uncle played briefly with the Falcons, and a cousin, Steve Fifita, recently signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, after earning the 2005 Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP during Utah's unbeaten season.
His younger cousin at Euless Trinity, Manaaki Vaitai, has orally committed to suit up for Brigham Young in 2007, spurning other top-notch schools in the process.
Niutei's family roots are cultivated from the Tongan Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean between Fiji and the Samoan Islands.
About 20 of Euless Trinity's players were of Tongan descent this season, which ended with the Trojans claiming the 2005 Class 5A Division I state championship over Converse Judson.
Many, like Niutei's parents, flocked to this Fort Worth suburb to work for American Airlines in the '80s, lured by better-paying jobs and flight benefits that enabled families to return to their homeland.
The 6-3, 280-pound lineman has visited the Tongan Islands six times, but most of his family resides in the Metroplex.
When they aren't eating four turkeys and a roasted pig - the necessary food amount needed during Thanksgiving - Niutei's family plays football.
"Everybody's the same speed," he said. "We're all linemen."
Niutei credited another family's bond for the Trojans' recent championship. He said the school's 2004 squad, which fell in the state semis, had more talent, but never connected as a team.
"We were such a tight-knit group - that's one reason we fought so hard," he said. "When we saw the offense struggling, it pissed you off and you wanted to get back on the field."
"We knew each other well, and we trusted each other," added Trinity tailback Dimitri Nance (Arizona State), who's also playing in the Oil Bowl. "I grew up with Tongans my whole life. They are just like family to me."
Plenty of schools were interested in Niutei, but TCU eventually won him over with its proximity to home (20 minutes) and Christian setting.
It also helped that Niutei witnessed one of the Horned Frogs' biggest victories last season. Watching Fifita play with Utah, TCU snapped the Utes' 18-game winning streak in overtime.
"I knew they were good, but that game got my attention," he said.
Niutei caught the opposition's attention with a relentless pass rush from the defensive end and tackle positions. He collected 13 sacks, earning a first-team District 6-5A selection.
Now like the uncles and cousins before him, Niutei is ready for the next level.