Special to The Seattle Times
Taniela Tupou has had a roller-coaster year.
The thrilling high for the Archbishop Murphy junior was his first Division I college football scholarship offer, from the University of Washington.
The gut-wrenching low was in May, when he had to resuscitate his grandfather, David Kekuaokalani, who collapsed at the dinner table, only to die a few days later.
This month, he buried his other grandfather, Fitu Tupou.
"For me, this year has been really emotional," said Tupou, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman.
This weekend, Tupou leads the second-ranked Wildcats (11-1) of Everett into a Class 2A state semifinal game Saturday against No. 3 Lynden (11-1), which ended Archbishop Murphy's season last year.
Tupou, who goes by Tani (or Taani, the traditional spelling, which is on his letterman's jacket), won't have all the same familiar faces of some of his relatives cheering for him this weekend. But the 16-year-old has found another source of support: his teammates.
"This year, we have come together more as a family," said Tupou. "We look at each other as brothers."
And there's little doubt who the big brother is.
Tupou, who weighed 9 ½ pounds at birth, has never been overmatched physically. As early as the third grade, he had to play against older boys. Even now, he's getting looks at the next level. In addition to a UW offer, Tupou has received recruiting interest from BYU, Notre Dame and several Pac-10 schools as a defensive-line prospect.
"He's just naturally strong and he works hard in the weight room," Archbishop Murphy coach Dave Ward said.
Tupou, who isn't ready to select a college, does the fire-knife dance to represent his Polynesian culture and is only a couple badges from becoming an Eagle Scout. His involvement in both began as a child.
During spring football this year, he helped teach his team the haka, a traditional Polynesian dance.
And as a member of the LDS faith, he is involved in the church and is looking forward to taking a mission after high school.
"He has his hands dipped in so many things right now, and going on a mission is just another one of his goals," said Kawai Tupou, Taniela's mother. "He's just dealing with them one at a time."
The next step to another of those goals, a state championship, comes Saturday.