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Friday, December 24, 2010

Trench Warrior: Battling through injuries and o-lines Fort’s Tony Tanumai earns Defensive Player of the Year

By Bill Althaus - bill.althaus@examiner.net
Posted Dec 24, 2010 @ 02:29 PM
 
OK, let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning.

The hair.

What about the hair?

You’re a two-time all-state nose tackle and the foundation of the Fort Osage defense, but when people talk about Tony Tanumai, they want to talk about your hair.

Tanumai laughs at the question, and answers it like it’s the first time he’s ever been asked about the long, black flowing hair that covers the number on the back of his Indians jersey.

“I don’t have the long hair because of (Pittsburgh Steelers all-pro) Troy Polamalu,” said Tanumai, who moved with his family to the Fort Osage School District when he was in the sixth grade.

“I have the long hair because of my cousins. They have long hair and I wanted to have long hair – but, they did it because of Troy Polamula, so I guess you could say in some ways, he’s responsible for it.”

The hair might be the most recognizable part of Tanumai’s personna, but once the junior standout steps on the field he’s known for his tenacity, his ability to run down a back from sideline to sideline and his leadership.

Those skills and the surprising success of the Indians this season played a big role in Tanumai edging Blue Springs’ Lewis Foutz and Blue Springs South’s Logan Adkison for The Examiner’s 2010 Football Defensive Player of the Year Award.

“Tony is a big-time player,” Fort Osage coach Ryan Schartz, The Examiner’s 2010 Coach of the Year, said of the 5-foot-11, 255-pound junior who was an all-state selection this year by the Missouri Football Coaches Association and the Missouri Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association and an All-Simone Team selection as one of the top defensive linemen in the Kansas City area. “We know, he gets a lot of attention because of his hair.

“But when he starts playing he gets attention for the way he plays and what he brings to this team. I know I coach him, and I love him, but I can’t think of a more deserving player.

“We had two guys back on offense and three back on defense and Tony was the rock of the defense and we used him a few games at right tackle on the offensive side of the ball.”

 Late in the season, Tanumai suffered a second-degree tear in the MCL of his left leg.

“We had him checked out by a doctor and once they cleared him to play, we couldn’t keep him off the field,” Schartz said. “And the way he played in that regional game against Staley was something I’ll always remember.”

In the first half of the 22-0 Fort Osage loss, Staley drove into the red zone three times, and three times the Falcons came away empty handed.

The most impressive defensive stand came in the opening drive of the second period when Staley had the ball first and goal on the 3.

 Staley attempted to score up the middle on four consecutive running plays, and four times Tanumai and the Indians kept them out of the end zone.

“That was an amazing stand, just amazing,” Schartz said.

Tanumai made the first three stops and linebacker Ryan Stick made the fourth.

“We have a team with a lot of heart and the best coaches in the state – no, make that the best coaches in the nation – and wanted to make a defensive statement,” Tanumai said.

“And we did.”

When asked about playing in the game, Tanumai said there was no option as far as he was concerned.

 “There was no way I was sitting out this game,” the junior nose tackle said. “I played for our seniors. I know I’m coming back and I wanted to give them every opportunity to keep their season going.”

When asked about winning The Examiner’s top defensive award, Tanumai spoke in hushed tones.

“It is a blessing,” he said. “I will share this with my teammates and my family. My family is going to be so proud of me, and I am so proud to be a part of a wonderful family. I can’t thank the voters enough for helping me with this great award.”

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