Tongan Bomber Hoping for Smooth Landing at USC

The name Vakapuna means "airplane" in his native Tongan language. In BYU-speak, Vakapuna spells "trouble" for any number of major college football teams who stand directly opposed to him.

Taufui Vakapuna, his full name, is a 6-0, 230-pound freshman fullback bundle of bones and brawn that clocked a 4.45 in the 40 this summer by his Sacramento personal trainer, who also trains some Oakland Raiders team members.

In his first-ever college outing against Georgia Tech last week, Vakapuna ran three times for 30 yards, averaging 10 yards a carry. Perhaps his most valuable contribution was as a backfield blocker where he pancaked oncoming linebackers and secondary defenders.

Highly recruited out of high school, Vakapuna earned some minor acclaim as the MVP of the national high school rugby competition as a speedy winger. He is as adept at running through defenders as he is around them.

During the Georgia Tech game, thousands witnessed the reckless abandon he showed on special teams by busting the wedge and blocking for tail backs Reynaldo Brathwaite and Naufahu Tahi. BYU fans also saw linebackers take punishing hits and safeties pull up on the plays when they saw the Tongan bomber hurtling toward them in full flight.

"Me and the other running backs had to step it up because Marcus (Whalen) got hurt. We didn't know what happened. It was kind of unexpected so we just stepped up to the plate."

His sweat, pain and tireless work ethic in the weight room are focused on one specific goal. "Just show my face for my parents to let them know." That's Tongan-English speak for making his parents (and family) proud.

Semisi and Uina Vakapuna beamed with pride and excitement watching their son run for the longest play of the game from scrimmage.

"All I was thinking is what my coach (Tidwell) told me: ‘Don't cross anybody's face' (a term used to describe a cutback situation that makes it easier for a defender to make a play on the ball carrier). That's pretty much it. I was just trying to get as many yards as I could, just going straight."

And straight ahead he went barreling over Georgia Tech's 6-3, 208 pound star safety James Butler, to cap off a 28-yard run.

While bringing honor to the family name is paramount for Vakapuna, he added, "I ran for the team as well. They're my family too."

Vakapuna and his family of Cougar family will face down the 4th ranked Trojans of USC Saturday at the Coliseum and they are not intimidated in the least. One player he is looking forward to playing against is Trojan middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu; a Samoan athlete who led all USC defenders in tackles at Auburn.

"It's going to be more challenging," said Vakapuna. "It's going to be Polynesians against Polynesians. I have to go all out. Their linebacker is Polynesian and me and (Fahu) Tahi are Tongan. You know how Polys are; it's a different thing when it comes to playing against other Polys," he said.

Protecting them will be two other Polynesians in Jake Kuresa (Samoan) and Ofa Mohetau (Tongan), both freshmen. Kuresa is a starter and Mohetau is expected to see a lot of action as the most recruited offensive lineman in the country last year.

Vakapuna said he and his teammates are fully aware of how completely and decisively the USC defense was in stopping a preseason national championship touted Auburn team.

"Practice is intense and I have to be more focused. Just because of this game, I want to be more focused because it's a big thing traditionally. They're a bigger team. I ain't lying..."

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