Hawthorne HS (CA)
Tuihalamaka just needed a gentle shove
Vuna Tuihalamaka would have probably found his way into the starting defense this season, but few expected the 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore to became a devastating force.
Tuihalamaka had a solid freshman season, but questioned his own desire to play football at a higher level. With some prodding from his family -- parents Emeline and Sio and uncle Nehumi -- the Tongan outside linebacker from Hawthorne High recommitted himself.
He has established himself as the Mission Conference's top linebacker and received the Division I prospect status that accompanies success in the respected conference.
"In a way, I was drifting off," said Tuihalamaka, who leads the conference in total tackles (63) and solo tackles (32).
"I was probably just going to continue on with school," he said. "I didn't think I was going to play Division I football. My family put it in my mind that I could play football at the next level."
Tuihalamaka made several trips to Phoenix to work out with his uncle, who forced him to devote more effort to weight lifting and running. Tuihalamaka was listed at 210 pounds at the start of last season and added about 20 pounds of muscle over the year.
He had 17 tackles as a freshman, playing exclusively against the pass. Defensive coordinator Tom Nelson knew Tuihalamaka's speed would lead him into a starting role, but he didn't expect performances such as the one Saturday, when the linebacker had 15 tackles in a 33-11 victory over Santa Ana.
Such performances have become routine.
"He's an absolute jewel," Nelson said. "I'm surprised about his durability. I knew he could play the pass, but now he can go sideline to sideline against the run.
"He could be a safety at the Division I level."
Tuihalamaka has an offer from Iowa State and will visit the school in early December, he said.
Give Tuihalamaka one extra assist
While Tuihalamaka was learning the ropes as a freshman, his cousin and former Hawthorne High teammate Simi Kuli (DE, 6'5, 250, Fr) was watching on the sidelines. Kuli decided not to play football after he graduated from Hawthorne, opting instead to drive a dump truck for his brother-in-law 's demolition company.
"I was thinking about playing but I didn't know if I was ready or not," Kuli said. "Then I saw Vuna play and I missed football."
Kuli has become a regular at defensive end for El Camino.