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Friday, June 15, 2007

Tuialuuluu carries heavy load on and off the field

June 15, 2007

Invariably, he is one of the first players on the field at practice, punting the ball just for the fun of it, a nimble elf contained within a body that weighs nearly one-fifth of a ton.

He is the one who arrived with long black hair, self-styled and self-dyed it into a blond Mohawk a few weeks later on a whim, shaved it all off, and is pondering golden lightning bolts for his next hairdo.

He is the 6-foot, 365-pound fullback who would be a folk hero of Refrigerator proportions if he played in the NFL rather than for the Lightning in the relative obscurity of arena2.

But there is much more to Peter Tuialuuluu than all of this.

"He's always been a positive person," his fiancé, Rita Izaguirre, said. "He's very strong minded."

He has had to be.

Tuialuuluu and the rest of the Lightning (4-5) will face the Dusters (1-8) tonight in Amarillo, Texas, a city that plays a bit part in the story of the San Bruno native's last few months.

But the tests of Tuialuuluu's resolve date back years, not months, and football has always been there for him when he needed something to lean on.

Born 23 years ago in American Samoa, he was put up for adoption and never knew his biological parents, one of whom has since died. His adoptive parents divorced when he was young, and his adoptive mother, Coleta, died of leukemia when he was a 14-year-old living in San Bruno.

From that point on - with minimal help from a brother who himself was barely an adult - Peter relied on friends and football.

"There was really nothing else at home," he recalled. "It was just an empty house. It wasn't a home after she passed. I turned to my close friends, guys I played football with. I turned to them for brotherly love, for that connection that I wasn't getting at home. Football has been my family."

Tuialuuluu, a nose tackle, went on to play at College of San Mateo, Southern Utah and Southern Oregon, but seemed as if he might be finished with football until a few months ago. He and Izaguirre had been living in Clearwater, Fla., where Tuialuuluu worked at a Gold's Gym.

Everything changed with a call from Lightning offensive line coach Mathias Vavao, who invitedTuialuuluu to a tryout camp before training camp began in March. Tuialuuluu flew to Stockton, attended the camp and made an impression on Vavao.

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