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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Deuce Lutui returns to Mesa High for Super Bowl sendoff

Deuce Lutui has had home-turf welcomes.

The Arizona Cardinals lineman regularly visits his high school alma mater, but this week was the first time since the 6-foot, 4-inch, 330-pound offensive guard became bound for the Super Bowl.

Here at Mesa High, the 2002 graduate has fame, history, and, most important, connections.

"He comes around a lot. I've lifted weights with him," said 17-year-old junior Saruamy Rubalcava.

Known as "Titus" in high school, Lutui was not just another honoree attending a lunchtime pep rally on Wednesday. He's the most famous Mesa High Jackrabbit, and teens swarmed him for photos and autographs.

And then there were the questions from fans.

What's it feel like to go to the Super Bowl? (Lutui said he is just living the dream.)

What was your worst subject at Mesa High? (Math.)

Why are you here today? (I just wanted to say, "Hi.")

He's had some time off, but practice started Thursday. On Monday, the team departs for Tampa, Fla., and in 10 days they'll face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are listed as seven point favorites.

Born in the South Pacific Island nation of Tonga, Lutui, 25, grew up in Mesa and attended Lindbergh Elementary and Mesa High, where he was a two-way lineman. He was named Super Prep All-Farwest, Prep Star All-West, All-State, All-Region and All-Conference.

During his visit this week, he was happy to join the rest of the Mesa High football players, while about 300 students cheered, as they performed The Haka, a traditional Polynesian tribal rite featuring rough body moves, rhythmic chants vocals and guttural grunts.

Mesa High Principal Jim Souder got the idea to send the school hero off in style.

"We wanted to kick off the Super Bowl hype here at Mesa High," he said.

Former Jackrabbits coach and teacher Bill McKane told the crowd part of Lutui's success resulted from the fact that he always put others first.

"He's just like the rest of you - special," McKane said.

Lutui was selected in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, where he is reunited with former University of Southern California teammate Matt Leinart.

When asked about the Cardinals chances against the Steelers, Lutui said, "Mickey Mouse, where are you?" referring to the phrase often spoken by past winning players, "I'm going to Disneyland."

Regardless, Lutui has already made an impression on the Mesa High community, where he attends football games and participates in charitable events.

After all, he was a Jackrabbit before becoming a Cardinal.

"He's just a great guy and I wish him the best in the Super Bowl," said Luci Ramirez, 17.

Maria Costello, 17, paused a few seconds before giving her impression.

"I'm proud he came from here," she said. "He's an inspiration."

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