Taumata a hidden gem

BYU signed many great prospects for the 2012 class, some of which were ranked nationally. However, there is one prospect that signed with the Cougars as a late qualifier, and few know anything about him. Total Blue Sports caught up with Perris High School star Tofi Taumata for his first ever interview for Cougar fans.

Originally from American Samoa before moving to Southern California, 6-foot-3-inch, 270-pound Tofi Taumata was a bright spot on a below average Perris High School football program.

"I play defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker sometimes," said Taumata, who benches about 300 pounds and squats about 500 pounds. "At defensive end, I like to contain while trying to get to the quarterback but keep everything inside. At the defensive tackle position, I like to clog the middle while working my way to the ball. As a linebacker, I can read well, play run first, then cover."

Taumata might seem a little big as a linebacker, but he comes from the island of American Samoa, where a bumper crop of large athletes hail.

"I played middle linebacker before I came here," he said. "I played middle linebacker at Faga'itua High School back when I lived in American Samoa. We have a lot of big players back home."

"They played him at kind of linebacker and safety position his senior year to try and put him in a position to make plays," said Heritage coach Petelo Hifo. "We were happy to see him playing linebacker because we didn't have to deal with him at d-end. And I'll tell you what, his junior year we could not run the ball on his side. That's how good he is. We tried pulling kids to block him and they ended up going backwards."

The Taumata family left their island home in September of 2009. A week later, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake south of American Samoa struck the island nation at about dawn. The coastal villages comprising of most of the island's population were struck hard.

"I came from American Samoa right when the tsunami happened," said Taumata. "I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back because of my family and to help my people, so I lost focus in school and that kind of messed up my grades."

However, knowing the talent and potential that Taumata had, his bishop Tom Thompson and Heritage coach Petelo Hifo never gave up on him.

"My bishop was talking to one of his old friends, Coach Hifo, who told him that BYU was down here recruiting," said Taumata. "My bishop asked him if he could get their number so he could call then to ask them if they could just meet me, but the coaches didn't want nothing to do with me because they had already found their players they wanted. Our bishop tried hard and made a big effort to get them to come see me. Then we had a chance to talk and they finally came and saw me."

Although Taumata didn't play for Heritage High School, Coach Hifo nevertheless played a big part in helping him get to where he is today.

"Coach Hifo always checked in on me and made sure that I was doing what was right," Taumata said. "He always checked in on me and talked to me a lot about working out and keeping up with my grades. He talked to a bunch of coaches and tried to get BYU to come look at me a year ago.

"When that wasn't happening, he brought some coaches from Washington down to see me during spring last year. That's when I spoke to Coach Nansen and he was talking about how they have a really good program up there. He was telling other coaches about me, so he really helped me out."

Finally, Taumata got to speak with the Cougar coaches.

"All they wanted was film," he said. "We tried to put film together in, like, two days. Then we sent it to them. After they watched it they said they liked it. It was basically my bishop that did the impossible."

"Without his bishop, Bishop Thompson, that kid would never have ended up at BYU," said Coach Hifo. "His bishop told him that if he stays strong in the Church and plans on a mission, that he would have blessings come his way that he's never seen before."

Next, Tuamata went to work focusing on his grades. Right before he qualified, Taumata received a visit from a Cougar coach.

"Once the time came to qualify, my high school counselor didn't check the classes that I needed for college," Taumata said. "I took a couple of classes to help me with that. My whole focus was on Fresno State and Washington and they both had their coaches come out to see me during the spring. BYU came to see me right before I qualified, but they didn't come in until like the beginning of the year this year. When they looked at my film, I had already qualified."

After qualifying, Taumata was invited to visit BYU.

"I went up there for an official visit and it was a great place," said Taumata. "I felt like that was the place I needed to be and a perfect fit. I spoke to Coach Mendenhall in his office and he offered me the scholarship on Sunday the day before I came back. They sent me the papers in the mail when I came back down. It was a blessing and was something I didn't think would happen just a few months before."

Upon receiving the offer from Coach Mendenhall, Taumata – whose older brother Travis played defensive tackle at USC – committed to the Cougar head coach.

"I was pretty excited and happy and committed right there," he said. "I felt blessed that now I was going to play for BYU. It was a prayer answered."

"Obviously, Tofi got a full-ride to play at BYU and now he'll go on his mission," said Coach Hifo. "After one semester at BYU, he'll be 19 and then he'll go on his mission. Bishop Thompson never gave up on that kid, and because of that, his life will be changed forever."

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