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Monday, April 13, 2009

Kaufusi family starting to resemble a small football army

By Dick Harmon

Deseret News
Published: Monday, April 13, 2009 11:13 p.m. MDT

Petelo and Eveline Kaufusi never knew how they'd afford to pay for college and advance the lives of their children when they migrated from the tiny island of Tonga to Salt Lake City in 1972.

The Kaufusis had just finished selling their pigs and chickens and served a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Tonga, and their two oldest sons, Steve and Rich, were growing into their big bodies.

Eveline's sister, Makalita, immigrated to the U.S. and lived with an LDS family in Utah, where she graduated from the University of Utah and worked at U.S. Immigration. With Makalita's help with papers, Petelo and Eveline brought their family to Utah.

To make the challenge more daunting, Eveline's mother, Losaline, died, and rather than give her four remaining children up for adoption, Eveline decided to take them and raise them, too, and they joined in the trek to the Beehive State.

Steve, who never played much high school football, ended up playing at Dixie College and his first offer, from UNLV, opened his eyes. He could get a college degree by playing football. He called home and told his parents "this is the way — get all those kids playing football right now."

They did.

Today, Steve's oldest son, Bronson, is a 6-foot-8, 240 pound defensive end and tight end at Timpview High, who is ranked among the top three high school players in Scout.com's Northwest Fab 50 for the class of 2010.

At the high school level, Bronson is easily the most-hyped Kaufusi in two generations, a lineage that includes a bevy of outstanding football players from BYU, Utah, Michigan State, Oregon and Ball State.

It's a remarkable story of a family and football, a game Petelo had never seen before he arrived in the United States, packing a family that, in time, would resemble a small army.

His oldest, Steve, redshirted on that 1985 team and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988 before coaching at Utah and his current position as the defensive line coach at BYU.

Rich Kaufusi followed Steve to Dixie, then to BYU where he played defensive end on that team that beat defending national champion Miami in Provo and wrote a book about it after signing as a free agent with San Diego.

Brothers Jason, Jeff, Doug and Henry all played at Utah under Ron McBride, where they were a foundation for Utah's return as conference title contender. Pasa Tuku'afu, one of the boys taken in by the Kaufusis, also played for the Utes.

That's seven for seven.

Now comes the second generation, led by Bronson, who was measured at 6-foot-8 at a recent Under Armour camp at Santa Monica Junior College where he ran a 4.72 and posted a vertical leap of 32.5 inches at 242 pounds. He committed to BYU in October 2007 as a high school sophomore.

But this family story has more. There are the cousins.

The son of Petelo and Eveline's daughter Losaline is Percy Taumoelau, the star offensive lineman at Cottonwood High School, who signed in February to play at Utah. He was the outstanding O-lineman at the BYU Nike camp last summer.

Steve Kaufusi is first cousin to the mother of Cal-bound Kenni Kaufusi (Cottonwood) and USC-bound O-lineman John Martinez (Cottonwood). Kenni signed with Utah out of high school.

Pasa's brother is Will Tuku'afu, who signed with BYU out of high school but left for a mission, competed his eligibility for Division I at a junior college in Arizona before signing with Oregon of the Pac-10.

Another daughter of Petelo and Eveline, Makalita, has two sons in Ohio where her sons, Peter Rolf, plays at Ball State and David Rolf is a defensive lineman at Michigan State.Petelo and Eveline's son Henry has a son by the same name playing for Cottonwood High School and, like Bronson, is in his junior year.

Bronson Kaufusi is being handled differently than the first generation of football players of Petelo and Eveline.

"With me and my brothers, football came first, it was everything. With Bronson, we're making sure academics comes before football," Steve said.

The recruiting boom has already hit Bronson, although he committed to BYU so long ago. "Some schools know he's committed and that I coach at BYU and back off, others say signing day is a long way off and they intend to keep pursuing him," Steve said.

Going up against UCLA-bound lineman Xavier Sua'Filo every day in practice at Timpview enabled Bronson to develop a competitive knowledge of where he might stand. Thunderbird coach Louis Wong claims Bronson had his share of days he got the best of Sua'Filo, ranked one of the best offensive linemen in the country."Bronson is simply the best player in the state," Timpview coach Louis Wong said this past fall. "He will go further than all these players getting recruited out of Utah."

Steve doesn't want all the attention to get in Bronson's head.

"As parents, we work at keeping him grounded. Football can come and go, but there are other important things in life." Steve said his brothers and his son are "blessed" to find an education in football. It has changed their lives. Many other Tongans who have immigrated to the United States aren't as lucky with their offspring.

"Many of their parents worked two jobs to make it and they lose a handle on how their kids are doing in school and they join gangs and end up in prison. The life of a gang member is not in the Tongan culture, it is not the way of their parents who grew up in the islands and it is sad to watch," Steve said.

Bronson and the others have a responsibility to live up to the Kaufusi name.

"I don't mean the football, just the name they've been given, which represents many," Steve said. "It is our hope the Kaufusi's who play football give everything on the field, leave everything they have there, but when they walk off the field, they are gentlemen, good students and citizens. Football is such a small part of what we do."

But football is also a legacy for the Kaufusi clan, one that is now in full bloom.

Kaufusi Family Tree

Petelo (father) and Eveline (mother) Kaufusi

1. Son Steve Kaufusi (BYU lineman); his son, Timpview junior DE/TE Bronson Kaufusi, is committed to BYU.

2. Daughter Makalita's sons Peter Rolf (Ball State D-lineman), David Rolf (Michigan State D-lineman).

3. Son Rich Kaufusi, played D-line at BYU.

4. Daughter Losaline's son is Percy Taumoelau (Cottonwood O-lineman) bound for Utah.

5. Son Jeff Kaufusi played O-line at Utah.

6. Son Henry Kaufusi played O-line at Utah, son Henry is D-lineman, junior at Cottonwood.

7. Son Doug Kaufusi played O-line at Utah.

8. Son Jason played D-line at Utah.

Steve Kaufusi is uncle (through mother Eveline) to Will Tukuafu, DL at Oregon.

Steve Kaufusi is first cousin to the mother of Kenni Kaufusi and his brother John Martinez, who are bound for Cal and USC.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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