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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Versatile Spartan uses size on offense, defense

CHULA VISTA – Few high school football players in the region offer the versatility of Taimi Tutogi.

A fullback and defensive end, the Chula Vista High senior has top college programs knocking on his door. It's what Tutogi has been working for since he strapped on the pads in Pop Warner.

“I remember playing football since I was a little kid,” Tutogi said during preseason drills. “I always wanted to go to college and play football. Now that I'm finally here and I'm about to go to the next level, it's amazing.”

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Tutogi has the prototypical size big-time schools seek in high school recruits. Tutogi has received a scholarship offer from Arizona, along with interest from USC, Fresno State, New Mexico, Arizona State and Washington.

“He's a phenomenal athlete for his size,” Chula Vista coach Judd Rachow said.

Last season, Tutogi finished second on the team in rushing, gaining 467 yards on 72 carries for a team-high 6.5 yards-per-carry average. His nine rushing touchdowns tied for the team lead. Tutogi led the Spartans in receiving with 18 catches for 350 yards and six TDs.

All of this despite missing two games.

“He's just a good all-around player,” Rachow said.

It is Tutogi's work at defensive end – he tied for second on the team with four sacks last season – that Rachow thinks will help him at the next level. Tutogi's size and room for growth provide many ways for him to get on the field.

“He could be a defensive end, tight end, halfback, fullback, or even gain some weight and be a defensive tackle in college,” Rachow said. “Most likely, his college position will be defensive end.”

Away from the football field, Tutogi encountered trouble last spring. He and his brother, Thomas, now a junior on the football team, took a school projector home to play video games. The boys were caught and punished.

“I was real scared,” Tutogi said. “With worries about football ineligibilities, I cried with my mom.”

Expelled from Chula Vista for the spring semester, the Tutogi brothers attended San Ysidro High. Taimi said he learned to take nothing for granted, no matter how good he might be on the field.

The brothers kept their grades up at San Ysidro and were readmitted to Chula Vista on the last day of school in the spring. Tutogi, who must sit out the first two games of this season, said he learned a lesson.

“That was a major wake-up call,” he said. “Always keep your head on straight.”

With his team coming off an 8-3 record last year that included a playoff win over Vista, Tutogi is focused on 2008, though the season hasn't started the way he'd hoped.

On Friday, Chula Vista opened with a 14-12 loss to an energized Castle Park team.

With Tutogi still on the sidelines, the Spartans will face an emotional test this week when they play Sweetwater at 7 p.m. Saturday at Southwestern College. The game will mark the annual renewal of the area's longest-running high school football rivalry.

“This year is really the team that we think can go all the way,” Tutogi said. “Everyone's a family, and we all have the same common goals. I feel like this year we're going to have a good season.”

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