Coming in at 5-11, 205-pounds, Punahou High School running back Wayne Taulapapa is a force on the field to be reckoned with. He has a powerful core, good balance, excellent vision, and runs with authority, having very good lower body strength.
As a sophomore he recorded 10 receptions for 150 yards and scored three touchdowns. As an all-purpose back, he rushed the ball for 1,136 yards and scored 17 touchdowns on the ground.
In his junior year he only played in three full games out of nine due to the mercy rule. Still he rushed for 1,171 yards on 130 carries, averaging nine yards per carry. He scored 20 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 114 yards out of the backfield. He was named a first team all-state running back by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among other outlets and was named the 2014 State Champion Impact Player of the Game. Taulapapa is the top running back in the state of Hawaii and has committed to BYU.
“First of all just getting the offer from BYU and looking at what that means is just a great offer,” Taulapapa said. “Looking at the type of education I would be getting, along with the type of football I’ll be playing, just makes BYU a place where I would want to be. That’s why I’ve decided to commit to BYU.
“Family also has a lot to do with it. I have a lot of family that went there and Mark [Atuaia] went there, and he’s from here where I live and getting to hear his story was great. He told me what I could accomplish if I work hard and everything. I’m really happy with my commitment, and it took a lot of prayer but the final decision was BYU and I’m excited about it.”
BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia grew up in Laie and played football at Kahuku High School, where he broke the state’s all-time rushing record. Coach Atuaia was recruited by BYU and legendary coach, LaVell Edwards. His decision to come play football at BYU was very much the same as Wayne Taulapapa’s. Taulapapa can’t wait to play for Laie’s local running back hero.
“Coach Atuaia is a great person overall,” Taulapapa said. “The things that he’s taught me goes beyond football. I’ve learned a lot from him and I haven’t even played for him yet. He’s a great example to me in my life and I look forward to play under his wing and coaching.”
Taulapapa wanted to commit to BYU sooner. However, he took a prayerful and patient approach to his final decision. When he felt the time was right, he picked up the phone and called BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and gave him the news.
“I called Coach Mendenhall and was really excited about it,” Taulapapa said with a chuckle in his voice. “I was so excited I kind of fumbled my words around a little bit. When I finally calmed down I was able to tell him that I never felt more sure of where I wanted to be, where I needed to be, and where the Lord told me to be. Overall it felt great after I did it and it was an amazing feeling. I can’t really describe it.”
When asked about how Coach Atuaia reacted to Taulapapa’s decision to commit to the BYU Cougars, Taulapapa began to chuckle once again but the chuckle was a little longer and little louder. At times, Coach Atuaia can get really animated with his excitement and holds nothing back. Basically, he wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t care who knows it, which is why he is loved by his players and those back home in Laie.
“He was really, really excited about my decision,” Taulapapa said laughing. “He’s just a great guy and was so excited.”
Taulapapa paused for a moment and began to laugh a little more, but then the tone softened as his own words began to sink in.
“It’s just that he really cares and knows what BYU is all about. I think he’s just really excited for me because of everything BYU has to offer. I just think he’s excited for me because he knows what my decision means for me. That’s why he got so excited on the phone.”
When it comes to his players, Coach Atuaia never holds his heart back. Mentorship makes up a big part of who he is and caring for his players, while expressing his love for them, is not an uncommon thing. This is a disposition that runs throughout the entire staff at BYU derived from an environment that places an emphasis on more spiritual matters.
“I think this is what makes BYU special,” Taulapapa said. “The environment there makes BYU special and I went there for a visit and I felt the spirit everywhere I went. I know what it feels like to be there. The LDS factor and the type of people that are there is just different. Of course I wasn’t a student but you just felt a part of the school just by being there. It’s just great.”
Taulapapa is close with childhood friend Hirkley Latu who plays outside linebacker at Kahuku High School. Now that Taulapapa has committed to BYU, Latu has a chance to play alongside Taulapapa at the college level. This is something they’ve talked about in the past.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Taulapapa said. “We always end up playing against each other.”
Taulapapa began to laugh again.
“We are supper competitive against each other but at the same time we’re best friends. We always joke around about that stuff.”
At one point in their football careers, the two close friends had injured their shoulders around the same time. To get back to playing form they ran together every day to get in shape.
“We both tore our shoulders, so to get back in to the game we would always go running together,” Taulapapa said. “We go a long ways. I know he decommitted but I know he’ll come around. I think he’ll end up at BYU when it’s all said and done.”
Being able to play with his close friend Hirkley Latu would be an amazing experience for Taulapapa. He knows how good of an athlete Latu truly is.
We’re always teasing each other face to face, but if I were to describe what kind of a player Hirkly is, I would just say pure athlete,” Taulapapa said. “He’s able to do a lot of things people can’t really do. He’s able to do more than one job. He’s a lockdown player and he’s really fast. He works really hard and never quits. He just keeps going and pushes everyone around him to get better.”
Once Taulapapa finishes up at Punahou High School, he is planning on serving a mission. However, he’s not exactly sure when he’ll go.
“I’m not sure when I’m going to go,” Taulapapa said. “I have to talk it over with my parents, but I’m not sure if I want to play a year first then go on my mission, or go on my mission right out of high school. I’m not sure what I’m going to do first. Overall I’m just excited to go on my mission, but I’m not sure if I’m going to play a year first then go or just go after high school. We’ll see I guess.”