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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fort Osage's Tanumai repeats as Defensive Player of the Year

Tony Tanumai chuckles when he thinks back to his first varsity start on the Fort Osage High School defensive line.
“I was so nervous, I think I jumped offsides about eight times that game,” Tanumai said.
But after each mistake, senior veterans like E.J. Gaines – who is one of the top defensive backs in the Big 12 and a standout for the University of Missouri – and Nathan Hancock gave him an encouraging word.
“I’ll never forget how the seniors took care of me,” said Tanumai, a three-time all-state nose tackle who is The Examiner’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row, edging Blue Springs South’s Jake King and Blue Springs’ Deiondre Hall for the award.
“I was a 15-year-old who wanted to prove that I belonged out there with all those great seniors we had. That was a year I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget anything about playing at Fort Osage. It has been the best time of my life.”
Tanumai is speechless when told that he’s won The Examiner’s top honor for the second year in a row.
“Really? With all the great players in the area?” asked Tanumai, who was a two-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the top lineman or linebacker in the metro area. “Oh, I am blessed. I wish I could tell you how I really feel, but I can’t come up with the words.”
That’s all right, we’ll leave that task to his coach, Ryan Schartz.
“He is so deserving,” Schartz said. “He’s a three-time all-state player and one of the best I’ve ever coached. Our other two three-time all-staters were pretty good. One is at MU (Gaines) and the other (Dalton Krysa) was the state’s all-time leading rusher when he graduated. So Tony’s in pretty good company.”
And over the past three years, he drew his share of attention on the field. There wasn’t a game that the 5-foot-11, 255-pounder wasn’t double teamed.
“One-on-one blocking against Tony?” asked Schartz. “Never saw it. He was doubled up on every game. And that just opened up opportunities for other guys on defense to make big plays.”
Despite the extra attention he attracted on the line, Tanumai finished his senior season with 67 tackles, four forced fumbles and racked up an amazing 17.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks.
“He’s a nose tackle who is doubled up every game and he gets 67 tackles,” Schartz said. “That’s a pretty amazing number. And the 17.5 for a loss really stand out. When I was totaling our stats, that one just jumped out at me.”
Yet trying to get Tanumai to talk about his accomplishments is just a bit less difficult than blocking him.
“I’m nothing without my teammates, my brothers on the field,” Tanumai said. “It’s not just me out there. There are 11 of us, and all we care about is winning. And our coaches are part of our family, too. We have the best coaches in the state.”
Most players of the year have that one moment when they etch their name in the book of lore for their respective high school.
Tanumai’s came on a defensive stand against Staley in last year’s 22-0 regional loss at Staley.
In the first half, Staley drove into the Indians’ 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.
The Falcons 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, who was playing on one leg following a knee injury that nearly kept him out of the game, made the first three stops and linebacker Ryan Stick made the fourth.
“We had a team with a lot of heart, and wanted to make a defensive statement,” Tanumai said. “And we did. I remember that game like it was yesterday.”
This year, the Falcons again got past the Indians. This time by a score of 7-6 in the quarterfinals. That score becomes more impressive when you realize Staley downed defending state champion Lee’s Summit West 76-70 in a four-overtime state semifinal the next week. Staley then reeled off 35 points in the state championship win over Kirkwood.
“We didn’t win either game against Staley,” Tanumai said, “but at least they knew they were in a game. I was proud to be a part of a team that held them to just seven points this season.”
Tanumai is now looking at offers from a variety of colleges, and has spent a few moments reflecting on a career that Schartz and Indian fans will never forget.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Tanumai said. “I hope when our fans think about me, they know that I gave it everything I had and loved playing for our football family as much as I love anything in my life.”

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