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Thursday, August 16, 2007

High school football: Hunter's Atiga trying to fill big shoes

By Dan Rasmussen
Deseret Morning News
Published: August 16, 2007
WEST VALLEY CITY — Call it 'Running Back High.'

Since the school came into existence in 1990, Hunter High has been a tailback factory, churning out outstanding runner after outstanding runner.

Tefua Bloomfield.

David Fiefia.

Joe Lomu.

Tauni Vakapuna.

Matt Asiata.

One — Fiefia — was named Mr. Football by the Deseret Morning News and another — Vakapuna — was a 5A MVP. All were first-team All-State selections, and they, along with others, have left a huge legacy as great Hunter High running backs.

Trying to fill such big shoes could be daunting for some, but current Wolverine tailback Muka Atiga hasn't just embraced the situation — he's thrived on it.

Entering his senior season, Atiga needs approximately 1,450 yards to pass Asiata, his brother-in-law, and become Hunter's all-time leading rusher.

Atiga's main priority is to help the Wolverines bounce back from a disappointing 5-4 record in 2006, but he's clearly aware of Hunter's illustrious rushing history.

And of his place in it.

"It's always in my mind, thinking about the past," he says. "I just try to live up to those expectations, like always. At least try to be the best I can be. I respect every running back that came through here."

For coach Wes Wilcken, having Atiga has been "a coach's dream."

"For him, it all starts off the field," Wilcken says of the 3.6 cumulative GPA student. "He does every single thing you ask him to do. He's as positive as can be, in every way, shape and form. He's as dedicated as anyone who's ever been here. He's likeable. He's pleasant...He's a super kid."

"And then," adds Wilcken, "the added bonus is he's a great player, too. He's a smart kid. He's got good moves. He's got everything, so I'm just very happy that he's on my team."

Atiga said his main focus this summer has been to help his team get better.

In 2006, Hunter went 5-4 and lost a home game in the opening round of the playoffs. It would register as a decent enough season for many schools but fell well short of Hunter's standards.

One season later, the Wolverines are trying to get back on track.

"It's just not typical Hunter High School football," Atiga says of 2006. "(We) just kind of dealt with a lot of laziness, you could say. But I think we're getting through all that stuff this year."

As he fights alongside his teammates this fall, Atiga will also be fighting for his place in school history. Interestingly, family bragging rights will be on the line as Atiga nears Asiata's all-time rushing lead.

That's because Asiata recently married Atiga's sister, Tangi, and Atiga has been living in the same house as the newly-married couple.

"It's kind of hard not to (discuss the record) because he lives with me, right down the hallway from my room," Atiga says of Asiata, who will play for the University of Utah this fall.

In his time at Hunter, Asiata helped the Wolverines win a state title, in addition to finishing as the all-time leading rusher.

Atiga, who says he hopes to play college football in this state, made it clear he would have to accomplish both feats — breaking the record and getting a title — to establish true bragging rights over his brother-in-law.

"He's got that ring," points out Atiga. "So if I get that record and no ring, I gotta have somethin' else to fall back on. But it'd be even better if I got that ring."

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