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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Double Duty: A look at the two-way standout in prep football--TJ Tuigamala

Double Duty: A look at the two-way standout in prep football

Towering at 6 foot, 4 inches and packing a mean 275 pounds, Paloma Valley's T.J. Tuigamala is called "unblockable" by his coaches, but he prefers protecting the quarterback at left tackle.

Terrorizing opposing teams at linebacker is only one of the reasons why Aaron Davis is Elsinore's reigning "Ironman." He also likes long-snapping and running routes at tight end.

Chaparral's Talmadge Jackson is difficult to corral into one catchy slogan ---- mostly because the Pumas' versatile running back/defensive back/receiver is just way too quick to catch.

All three have one thing in common ---- they hate the sidelines. And they don't often see them, being three of the Valley's top two-way prep football athletes. And while double duty can be a tough task, each relishes their multiple roles. Their respective teams reap the benefits.

The unmovable beast

Tuigamala epitomizes the ideal prep lineman in his agile yet strong frame, and Wildcats coach Bert Esposito says his team benefits whenever a play comes his way.

"He gives us such stability," Esposito said. "We know what we can count on with T.J. on the field. He's such a force ---- and he's blessed with such athleticism for a big guy.

"He may be 6-3, 6-4 and 270-275 pounds, but he runs conditioning drills with our running backs."

The 16-year-old Tuigamala, who started his career at Paloma as a sophomore offensive lineman weighing 20 pounds heavier than he is today, prefers offense to defense, but would feel "weird" if he wasn't playing both. He likes how the differences in each complement one another and enjoys the challenges each gives him.

"Defense is more about instinct while offense is more about technique," Tuigamala said.

And Tuigamala takes that technique seriously, especially considering his move from guard to left tackle.

"That left side is the quarterback's backside, so quarterbacks have to trust left tackles with their lives," Tuigamala said. "I know I have to block, no matter how tired I might be."

Tuigamala, a young senior who will not turn 17 until November, played both ways last year. Knowing the conditioning he would need, he took matters into his own hands to stay in shape during the offseason. He ran around his block 10 times ---- a distance of about two miles ---- every other day, in addition to hours in the weight room.

Tuigamala also made some adjustments to play defense for the Wildcats, and at a recent scrimmage showcased his versatility at defensive end.

"Defensive guys have a certain mentality and it's easier to make a defensive guy (into) an offensive guy," Esposito said. "But T.J. made the transition from a passive offensive player to an intense defender ... We feel like he's unblockable."

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