The road forward for Taumoepenu

Timpview High School defensive end Pita Taumoepenu did something not many athletes at the high school level do when he recorded 25 sacks last season as an undersized defensive end. But what makes Taumoepenu's accomplishment even more extraordinary is that he did so having only played one year of high school football.

If there ever was a high school prospect that fits the bill of one having a lot of upside, untapped potential and a lot of room to develop, it's Pita Taumoepenu.

Coming in at 6 feet 2 inches and 218 pounds, Taumoepenu came to America from Tonga. While in the United States he took up football. But back home on the friendly islands, Taumoepenu was a standout rugby player. In fact, he was named a BYU rugby camp MVP last summer.

After a highly successful senior year of football, Taumoepenu received attention from BYU, Utah State and Hawaii. Both Utah State and Hawaii have verbally offered Taumoepenu based on whether he can pass the ACT.

"I'm going to visit Hawaii this week," Taumoepenu said. "They offered me a scholarship and so did Utah State. A coach came to my house and he offered me the scholarship."

As for BYU, Taumoepenu took an official visit to the campus during the recent big recruiting weekend.

"Going to BYU, I had a lot of fun with all the players and coaches over there," Taumoepenu said. "They were really nice to me. We went snowmobling and did some fun stuff. I really like it over there."

At Timpview High School, Taumoepenu played out of position on the defensive line as a rush defensive end. In the 4A state championship game, it was Taumoepenu who sealed the Thunderbird victory with a sack on the final play of overtime. At the next level he would make a very good – possibly great – outside linebacker, and that's exactly what Coach Mendenhall thinks.

"Yeah, Coach Mendenhall talked to me and told me he wants me to be an outside linebacker over there," said Taumoepenu. "He really wants me to be there, and I'm so excited and I can't wait. I'm going to go on my mission first for two years, and then I'll come back and I'm so excited about that. I can't wait. BYU is a good school."

Coach Mendenhall has courted Taumoepenu and expressed a lot of interest in him. Being recruited by BYU's head coach is something very exciting to a young man who never dreamed that would be the case while living on the islands of Tonga.

"I just think Coach Mendenhall is a good coach," Taumoepenu said. "He came and talked to me all the time and stuff like that. He takes care of me a lot and made sure that I had fun and things like that. He likes me a lot and wants me to come over there. He is the one that is recruiting me to come over there. I'm so excited man."

But before Taumoepenu can ever play for BYU, he has a few hurdles to jump over first. One is taking and passing the ACT.

"I'm taking the ACT next week on the ninth," Taumoepenu said. "I need to pass that and I think I will. The first time I took it I scored a 17, but I didn't speak any English when I took the test last time. When I first moved here from Tonga, I couldn't speak English but I still took it. I think now I'll pass it easy now because I can speak English."

Once Taumoepenu takes the ACT, he is to contact BYU.

"Coach Mendenhall told me to call him after I take the ACT," Taumoepenu said. "He said for me to call him and let him know. I'm excited man."

However, even if the young, talented athlete passes the ACT with flying colors, he's not out of the woods just yet. The Taumoepenu family has requested and is waiting for his high school transcripts.

"Yeah, right now I'm waiting for my transcripts from Tonga," Taumoepenu said. "I went to Liahona High School in Tonga and they're supposed to send me the papers. Coach Mendenhall just told me that if I can get all my transcripts from Tonga, they're going to offer me a scholarship to come play for them.

"The ACT is going to be easy, I think. I'm just going to take it again over here. The hard thing is getting my transcripts from Tonga. The NCAA wants them, so I'm just waiting. I think I'm going to get those this week."

Taumoepenu claims that he currently has a 3.5 GPA at Timpview High School. A combined average score with his core GPA from Liahona High School will determine where he stands with the NCAA.

"I'm doing good and we have a Polynesian counselor at school who helped me a lot and made sure that I did my schoolwork and everything," he said. "Her name is Momi Tu'ua and she would check my grades and everything and make sure I was doing the right thing."

Following high school, Taumoepenu plans on serving a mission. After his mission, he plans to play college football and continue to develop his untapped potential.

"I would like to go play football and go to school after high school," Taumoepenu said. "I don't care where I go if they give me a chance. BYU would be a good school to go to because it's a church school and it's close to home. I like it and think it would be good to go there. I think the biggest thing would be to represent the LDS people and my family from Tonga, you know."

Taumoepenu has got a few obstacles to clear, but like those bigger offensive linemen he ran past on his way to tie a state-record 25 sacks, it isn't anything he can't handle.

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