Taumoepenu striving for excellence

He only played football for one year, but the results of that one year were enough to earn Pita Taumoepenu a scholarship offer from BYU, Utah and Utah State. Now the Timpview High School defensive star has just reached another important milestone in his quest to play football for BYU.

Two days ago, BYU football signee and Timpview High School sack-master (25 sacks last year) Pita Taumoepenu received a message.

"I was sent an email," Taumoepenu said. "I don't know who sent me the email, but it said, ‘Hey, you should go check your [ACT] score right now.' I was like, ‘Oh, okay!' So I ran to the library to check it and, man, I was scared to check it because I knew that if I failed I would have to take it all over again."

Taumoepenu got on a computer and pulled up his ACT score. This was the second time he had taken it, so, much like his anticipation, the stakes were high.

"I opened it and I saw that I scored a 22 and was like, ‘Oh Dang!' I was so happy when I saw that," Taumoepenu said, still excited about the results. "I called my uncle Jeff and told him about it. He was like, ‘No way!' He was so happy for me and said, ‘Good job!' I'm just so excited, man! I can't wait to represent our church school!"

When Taumoepenu took the ACT the first time, he had recently moved to the states from Tonga and didn't understand English. But after being in the states for a year and a half, he began grasping the language. The second time he took the ACT, Taumoepenu scored a 29 in the science portion of the test, an 18 in math, a 13 in English and a 28 in reading. Excited with the results, he shared his success with his mother who is currently living in California.

"My mom said, ‘You are the smartest one in the family!'" said Taumoepenu while laughing. "I said, ‘Mom, I'm not even smart. I just work really hard.' I love talking to her."

Later on, Taumoepenu called up his future position coach to share the good news.

"I talked with Coach Kelly Poppinga and he said everything is good, but the NCAA is asking for my [freshman-year] grade from Tonga. They want me to send my grade from the [ninth] grade. I'm going to work on that, you know? Before they wanted my sophomore and half of my junior year, so I talked to Tonga and they sent it and the NCAA accepted it. Now we just need my [freshman-year] grade back in Tonga and that's it."

In order to ensure the transcript situation is taken care of, Coach Kaufusi, who had been out on the islands, stopped by Tupo'u High School in Haveluloto, Tongatapu. That's where Taumoepenu attended school during his freshman and sophomore years prior to transferring to Liahona High School.

"We're trying to get it," said Taumoepenu. "Coach Kaufusi is in Tonga right now and he's already talked to the principal. He's going to get it so we can have it, so I'm working on that right now."

The NCAA still has to approve Taumoepenu's ninth-grade transcript for him to be eligible to play right away. If the NCAA doesn't accept the results of his ninth-grade transcripts, the worst-case scenario would be for him to sit out and go to school a year following his mission. The best-case scenario would be for the NCAA accepts his transcripts, allowing him to suit up, practice and even potentially play his first year after serving his mission.

"I'm really happy about that and I'm ready to play football at the next level," Taumoepenu said. "Coach Poppinga said to me the other night, ‘Oh, you're good man. Are you ready to go?' He was so happy when I told him that I passed the ACT. He told me that I'm good but just need the [ninth] grade score so I can play sooner. He told me, ‘Hey man, I'm going to come by and see you this week.' He always comes and sees me at school and stops by to say hi. I like him a lot. He's a good guy."

Taumoepenu is still deciding what he will major in while at BYU.

"Yeah, I was thinking I wanted to study computer science or maybe something to do with the medical field," said Taumoepenu. "That's what I want to, something like that."

His recent ACT score wasn't the first time Taumoepenu has celebrated an accomplishment with his mother. Back on November 19, Taumoepenu and his Timpview team played for the state championship.

"I woke up early morning on the day of the state championship game," recalled Taumoepenu. "I called my mom, because she lives in California, and I was so excited. I asked her, ‘Mom, what do you want me to give to you? What do you want me to give to you for the state championship?' She told me, ‘I want you to give me three sacks!'"

Knowing that this task would be difficult to accomplish, he thought about it for a moment and then said, "Um, how about one sack?" She replied, "No, no, no, no… how about four?"

"I was like, ‘That's too much! Mom, how about three?'" he said. "She said, ‘No, can you give me four please?'"

Taumoepenu, who was only in his first year of playing high school football, replied, ‘Okay mom, I promise. I'll give you four sacks for the state championship game.'"

Later that day, Timpview squared off against Mountain Crest in what was a thrilling back-and-forth contest. Mountain Crest went up by three when quarterback Jamison Webb connected with receiver Moroni Laulu-Pututau with 1:54 left in the game. Circumstances appeared to be unfavorable regarding Taumoepenu keeping his promise.

"I was really nervous because the game almost over and I only had three sacks," said Taumoepenu with urgency. "The time was almost finished and I felt bad because of the promise I made to my mom."

However, the game wasn't over. Timpview quarterback Jake Lloyd engineered a nine-play drive downfield. On fourth down, Tyler Solarzano kicked a 31-yard field goal.

"The time was about to finish but we kicked a field goal to go into overtime," Taumoepenu said. "I was so happy!"

Taumoepenu was given a little more time. The game eventually went into double overtime, with the Thunderbirds taking the lead. It was then up to the defense to rise up and secure the victory for the state championship.

"I was thinking, ‘Okay, I will get inside there and make the sack for my mom,'" Taumoepenu said. "I went to the line of scrimmage and put it into my head, ‘I don't want the quarterback to even throw the ball or do anything. I just want to sack him and make my mom happy with four sacks.'"

Mountain Crest faced a fourth-and-12. This was not only Webb's last chance to keep Mountain View's 4A title hopes alive, but also Taumoepenu's last chance to fulfill the promise he made to his mother. The two teams got set into position.

"As soon as he said, ‘Hike!' I had already put all of my energy into my first step," recalled Taumoepenu. "Boom! When I hit that guy, man, I felt like my heart was going to blow up! I was so happy!"

He had done it. Taumoepenu recorded his fourth sack, keeping his promise to his mother while securing the state championship for his team.

"I was so happy and I made it for my mom," said an excited Taumoepenu. "I didn't want to give her a state championship. I wanted to give her what she wanted, and that was four sacks. This is what she asked, so I wanted to get it done. I was so happy inside my heart because I was able to do that for my mom."

After the game, Taumoepenu returned home. He picked up the phone and made a special phone call to his mother back in California.

"When I got home, I called my mom but at first I was really quiet," said Taumoepenu. "My mom was like, ‘Pita?' I said, ‘Hi mom.' She said, ‘You lost?' I said, ‘Mom, I got you four sacks!' She was so happy and said, ‘Yes! Did you win the state championship?' I said, ‘Yes mom, we won the state championship too!' She was so happy that night. She kept calling me I don't know how many times! It was a really good night and everybody was so happy.

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