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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tauiautusa: A True Success Story

“Hey Oli! What’s up,” a young man calls from an open gymnasium door at Fort Osage High School.

“Oli – ready for practice?” asks another Indian student.

As he makes his way from activities director Brandon Hart’s office to the football locker room, at least a dozen students call out to Oli Tauiautusa, a senior defensive back on the 7-3 Fort Osage football team that travels to Staley High School at 7:05 p.m. tonight for the opening round of postseason play.

What makes the spirited trek a bit unusual is that class is in session and this is the first full year Tauiautusa has been enrolled at Fort Osage.

His story is so remarkable it can bring a grown man to tears. It’s the stuff movies are made of. If you saw “The Blind Side,” you’ll know what I mean. The youngster no longer moves from home to home and state to state – because he’s found a loving family both on and off the football field at Fort Osage.

As we move through the hallways, Oli – everyone calls him Oli, and for good reason, it’s a lot easier to pronounce than Tauiautusa – opens every door as we exit one corridor and enter another.

As he walks into the football locker room, the Indians coaching staff is preparing the game plan for a Tuesday afternoon walkthrough.

As defensive coordinator Jon Oyler spots Oli, he calls out from the coaches office, “There is the greatest success story since we’ve been here.”

He walks out, gives the young man a quick hug and goes back to work.

A year ago, Oli was a statistic.

A year later, he’s No. 6 on the Fort Osage football team.

But he’s No. 1 in the hearts of his coaches and teammates.

“Oh, gosh, we love that kid,” Fort Osage coach Ryan Schartz said of the senior who spent little time in high school last year.

Actually, he has spent little time in high school the past few years.

“Oli moved here from Tennessee to live with his uncle,” Hart said, “and he told us he wanted to play football. First and foremost, we made sure everything was cleared through the Missouri State High School Activities Association and we got him enrolled in classes.

“He just tested off the chart in practice and he’s been one of the most athletic safeties we’ve had at Fort Osage High School. He’s not as fast as E.J. (Gaines, The Examiner’s 2009 Defensive Player of the Year who now plays at the University of Missouri), but he has great instincts.

“And when you see him in his pads and gear, the first thing you think of is, ‘There’s a football player.’”

When Schartz isn’t putting together the Staley game, he’s calling junior college coaches to tell them about his diamond in the rough.

Oli could be a difference maker in tonight’s game at Staley. But even if he doesn’t make a game-changing tackle or interception, he has made an even bigger impact at Fort Osage.

“He’s one of the most popular kids in the school,” Schartz said. “You can tell that Fort Osage High School has changed his life.”

And Oli is returning the favor.

“I never really had a family until this year,” Oli said, as he put on his gear. “I love the football team. I love Coach Schartz and our coaches and I love Fort Osage High School.

“When I came to visit my uncle, I had no idea there was a school – or a home – like Fort Osage. I had moved from one school to another school and now, I feel like I’m at home.

“And I love it. And I want to play so well for everyone Wednesday night. I know we went to the state championship game last year and I would like to experience that. That would be so special.”

Whether he ever slips a championship ring on his finger, this young man is a champion.

“He might be the greatest success story I’ve ever been associated with,” said Schartz, who breathed new life into a Fort Osage team that was 1-19 when he took it over six years ago and has molded the Indians into one of the elite programs in the state.

“You look at him, and you just smile. He has that affect on everyone. I feel so blessed – we all feel so blessed, that he has come into our lives.”

And that ever-present smile on Oli’s face lets everyone know he feels the same way.

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