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Sunday, September 16, 2007

East High (Anchorage, AK): Frank Tanuvasa

Thunderbirds' tank

At 6-foot-6, 360 pounds, Tanuvasa plows through the line

Looking into the heart of the East High defensive line, it's hard to miss this 16-year-old who has fitting proportions of a colossal NFL lineman.

His first name is Frank, but he goes by "The Tank." He earned the nickname because he bulldozes opposing linemen like M4 Sherman tanks did in World War II.

"He's a big dude," teammate Vaa Siaumau said.

Fellas of the Cook Inlet Conference, meet Frank Tanuvasa, "The Fridge" of Alaska football.

Listed at a bone-crushing 6-foot-6, 360 pounds, Tanuvasa is actually heavier than William "The Refrigerator" Perry (350-plus pounds) was when the lineman-turned-fullback was scoring touchdowns for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.

Though 300-plus pounders are no longer anomalies these days for NFL rosters, the hefty measurement is still an oddity in Alaska.

Tanuvasa is so gargantuous, he makes fellow 6-foot, 275-pound lineman, Anu Poleo, and the 6-foot, 250-pound Siaumau look small.

Poleo's happy to be playing on the same side of the ball.

"If I was going against him for the first time," Poleo said, "I'd be like 'Dang! I'm going against that guy?' "

But underneath Tanuvasa's No. 68 jersey lies a softhearted soul. Poleo and Siaumau, who say the three of are like brothers, call him a gentle giant.

"He's always kind to everybody," Siaumau said. "But when he steps onto the field, he's mean."

Considering Tanuvasa is the tallest among the 10 other 300-plus linemen in the CIC, "The Tank" is the Goliath for everyone else's David.

"He's hard to move," East coach Roger Spackman said.

Lineman that size typically have the movement of a potted plant. But Tanuvasa isn't one of those guys. His size 16 shoes move quickly for a player his size -- a result of trimming roughly 15 pounds off his massive frame in the offseason.

"Other people say it's surprising to see a big guy like me run fast," Tanuvasa said. "I don't think I'm fat, just big boned."

Spackman has noticed major differences in Tanuvasa's agility from last season when he weighed 375.

"He's still got a long way to go to fit into that big body," Spackman said. "But if he makes as much progress as he did from last year, he's going to be a spectacular senior."

Spackman enjoys watching "Frank the Tank" manhandle opponents. He can bench 325 pounds, which allows him to shove aside would-be blockers. It's even easier when he's using the correct technique.

"When he keeps his hips low and shoulders pads down, he's just dominating," Spackman said. "When he doesn't, he's not so dominating -- and we talk about it all the time."

Another topic Spackman and Tanuvasa talk about is keeping his shoes on during gym class.

Tanuvasa tweaked his left ankle at school this week after running the mile -- without shoes. The injury has kept him out of practice while his teammates prepare for Friday's rival game against West.

Tanuvasa hurt himself while trying to break the nine-minute mark in the mile. With that goal within reach, the 360-pounder rolled his ankle while sprinting down the home stretch.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "I really wanted to beat nine minutes."

That night his mother tended to his injury, Tanuvasa said. She performed the Samoan Fofo on his ankle, a Polynesian massage which involves baby oil and squeezing (or stepping on) the injured body part to reclaim energy and invigorate the body's spirit.

"I was yelling," Tanuvasa said about the excruciating pain he felt. "But it's for the good."

Tanuvasa hopes his mother's remedy will heal his pains for him to play in Alaska's oldest rivalry, dating to 1961. The game is crucial for East's playoff hopes.

Spackman believes Tanuvasa and the strength of his fellow linemen -- Poleo and Siaumau -- should push East into the postseason.

"The main goal is to win state and have a ring on our hand," Tanuvasa said.

So if the T-birds win state, East coaches better order one extra large for Tanuvasa.

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