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Friday, September 04, 2009

Desert Pines senior wide out a hidden jewel

Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Desert Pines High senior football player Eric Tuiloma is a star.

It’s just nobody knows about this hidden jewel, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound wide receiver and defensive back who is arguably one of the Las Vegas Valley’s top players.

He never comes off the field for the Jaguars — a team, like their star player, that also flies under the radar.

Tuiloma had four touchdowns Aug. 28 in a season-opening victory against Cheyenne, including one grab where he leaped over a pair of defenders to haul in a long pass from quarterback Dalton Leilua. He finished with just under 150 yards receiving and three touchdowns and returned an interception 15 yards for another score.

He was so dominant that he scored all four times he touched the ball. While that type of performance is a career for some, or something others can’t accomplish on their PlayStation, it was just another day at the office for Tuiloma.

With that in mind, it’s mind-boggling that his only scholarship offer is from Northern Arizona.

“If that happened in Pittsburgh, where I am from, JoePa (Penn State coach Joe Paterno) would be ringing your phone the next day,” Desert Pines coach Paul Bennett said.

Tuiloma, who will more than likely play defensive back or safety in college, has been clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is a sure-thing qualifier academically.

Simply put, he’s waiting for those letters of interest from the likes of Fresno State, Nebraska and Colorado to turn into scholarship offers.

Meanwhile, Bennett said, the coaches at Northern Arizona are keeping their fingers crossed that other schools don’t figure out what they already know — Tuiloma is the real deal.

“Eric had a field day (against Cheyenne),” Bennett said. “It was just incredible. Those people at Northern Arizona tell me they hope people at other schools don’t realize what’s going on with Eric. He’s a hidden jewel. They tell me to keep him under the radar.”

Tuiloma, a three-year starter, had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown last year against Valley and was an all-Sunrise Region selection.

But his less than 500 receiving yards as Desert Pines struggled offensively partially explains why there is only one offer.

Tuiloma isn’t all too concerned with the lack of attention. He understands that personal accolades will come after his team accomplishes its primary goal — dethroning perennial power Las Vegas High as the Northeast Division’s top team.

Tuiloma and Leilua, both of Polynesian decent, have been teammates together since their days of youth football with the Island Warriors — the New York Yankees of Las Vegas youth programs.

“It felt like we were playing in our homecoming game, even though it was just the first game of the year,” Tuiloma said of the excitement from his performance.

Desert Pines hosts Basic this week in arguably the biggest game of the recruiting process for Tuiloma.

A bad performance means he had a field day against a down Cheyenne squad, while a good performance will cement what Bennett and Northern Arizona coaches already know — Eric Tuiloma is a star.

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