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Monday, October 01, 2007

Bountiful linebacker Tonga Toko plays football with a contagious passion fueled by the memory of his brother, who died in 2004

By Andrew Aragon
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake

With the energy and passion in which Bountiful's Tonga Toko plays linebacker for the Braves, it often seems as if he's playing with an extra purpose.
Well, he actually is.
Toko dedicates his effort when he participates in sports to the memory of his brother Marion, who was killed by lightning at a family reunion in July 2004. Marion, who was preparing to begin his junior year at Bountiful, was coming off a sophomore season in which he helped lead the Braves to the Class 4-A championship by starting on both sides of the ball.
"Before every game, I pray, and ask him to help me," Toko said. "I think of him before every game in every sport I do. He was a very athletic kid. If he hadn't died, he could have gone somewhere."
Toko learned valuable lessons from the tragedy: Don't waste your talent and athletic ability, and enjoy life while it lasts.
"It affected me a lot," Toko said. "It pushed me more toward sports, made me strive even harder for what I wanted. This is what I became."
What he's become is a hard-hitting, tackling machine. Entering Bountiful's 24-7 win over Woods Cross on Friday night, Toko had recorded a team-high 73 tackles in six games. He had a season-high 19 tackles in Bountiful's loss to Mountain Crest on Sept. 21.
"He's been the heart and soul of our D-side," said Bountiful coach Larry Wall. "He's somebody who anchors the inside and allows you to do some other things."
Toko's play on defense draws an obvious comparison to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. They both have long, black hair hanging out the back of their helmets. They pursue to the ball and leave opposing runners with something to remember them by when they get there.
"He plays the game with a great deal of passion," Wall said. "That's just contagious. Other players see it. He plays with a great deal of emotion and passion and it rubs off on everybody and makes them play at that same level."
Toko also has proved to be one of the state's toughest athletes in both football and wrestling. As a junior, he took second place in the 215-pound division in Class 4-A while participating with a painful injury.
He also started his senior year of football at less than 100 percent. He broke his left hand during the summer while boxing with one of his brothers. The injury required surgery, and Toko began the season wearing a club-sized cast on his left hand.
Toko, as soft-spoken as he is tough, is still wearing a splint to protect an injury that never prevented him from terrorizing opposing offenses. His toughness is another thing that's rubbed off on his teammates.
"You need guys out there who are tough guys to set the tempo," Wall said. "He expects that from the other guys. If you're in a drill across from Tonga, a tackling drill or something, you better strap it on because you know he's coming full-go. That's where he helps you."

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