Unique blend of skills is why Archbishop Murphy's Tani Tupou is The Herald's 2010 All-Area Defensive Football Player of the Year
Some defensive linemen overwhelm the opposition with sheer strength. Others aren't as powerful, relying on speed and quickness to wreak havoc.
Then there are rare players like Tani Tupou, who possesses a dangerous and startling combination of speed and power. Good luck trying to block him.
For four straight seasons as a varsity player, Tupou was an effective warrior on the field. This year, Tupou used his unique blend of skills to reach new individual heights and help lead the Archbishop Murphy High School football team to its first state-championship game appearance since 2005.
“Tani's as good as anybody I've ever coached. Definitely, he just commands so much attention by the (opposing) offensive line. They worry about him and they double-team him,” Murphy coach Dave Ward said.
Even though opponents often ran away from him, Tupou finished his senior season with 81 tackles, including 21 tackles for losses and 11 sacks. He also forced four fumbles, recovered three, and knocked down six passes.
For being a relentless force on the D-line, Tupou is The Herald's 2010 All-Area Defensive Football Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Tupou is a University of Washington recruit who was named the Cascade Conference Defensive MVP. He also excelled as an offensive lineman (all-league first team) and — after switching from tight end to right tackle — was an essential component of Murphy's prolific rushing attack that didn't slow down until the Class 2A state championship game, which Tumwater won 34-14.
On defense, Tupou's main area of improvement this season was using his hands more effectively and developing a variety of pass-rush moves. Foes certainly used a horde of blockers to slow down Tupou, but Tupou's highly capable D-line pals made it tough for opponents to focus only on the future Husky.“I was really lucky that I had (seniors Julius Tevaga and Nathan Zarate) by me,” Tupou said, “because no one could really block us and they had to double-team at least one of us.”
In addition to playing well, Tupou took positive emotional steps this season. In previous years, Tupou had a tendency to get too fired up and let his enthusiasm boil over.
“My freshman and sophomore year I was kind of a firecracker,” he said. “If you got me going, I didn't really know how to control it. I'd just kind of go off and get into trouble on the field” and get whistled for penalties.
This year, Tupou learned to play with passion but in a less destructive way.
“I got a lot better at just being able to harness my emotion,” he said. “I just learned that you can be angry and everything when you play, but you can be under control.”
Part of Murphy's outstanding senior class, Tupou helped the Wildcats go 13-1 this season and 36-4 over the past three seasons, including two semifinal trips and this year's title-game appearance.
Beyond sharing victories with teammates, Tupou proudly shared his culture. Tupou, who is half Tongan and half Hawaiian, taught the Wildcats a ceremonial Haka war dance. Following wins, they performed the intense dance/chant for Murphy fans.
“It was an honor to be able to do that with (teammates),” Tupou said. “I was really proud of them, the way they were able to embrace the culture like that.”
Tupou's male ancestors used to do the sacred Haka dance before they went to war.
“Basically, it's saying: ‘We've come here to battle. We're laying it all on the line here for our family and our village. We're going to go home alive and you're not,'” Tupou said.
In a different context, the dance was a powerful unity-building tool for Murphy's football warriors.
“We're obviously not going to war,” Tupou said, “but when you step on the field, that warrior mindset begins. So our thing is, ‘This is our home; this football field is our domain. This is where we as a family thrive, and we're going to protect it with all we have.'”