Football "Mama's Boy" Fast Becoming a Man

The BYU Cougars have moved to the head of the line for a Northwest all-state football star and self-described "mama's boy" – an only son with five older sisters – whose mother wants him "to get out of Washington to experience something new and different." But make no mistake, this "mama's boy" is no softie.

Roman Pula (now Tinitali-Pula) is a 5-foot-11, 212-pound senior running back from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, who lit up opponents this season with 24 touchdowns (including one punt return for TD and one receiving TD), 1,680 yards rushing on 180 carries for an 8.9 yard- per-carry average, 34 tackles, and two interceptions. He was named a pre-season all-state 1st team selection by the Seattle Times, and post-season honors so far include 1st team all-state running back and league MVP by the News Tribune newspaper and all-area and offensive MVP by the 4A Narrows League Bridge Division.

Other post-season all-state teams have not been named yet, but Pula is expected to be on all the main 2006 all-state first teams, an honor he achieved in 2005 as a junior with less impressive stats (20 touchdowns, 1682 yards, 75 tackles, one interception and 30 more carries).

Moreover, Pula has rushed for a record 5,300 career yards and 74 career touchdowns since becoming a varsity starter as a freshman.

But with all his success as a running back, most college recruiters and scouts regard him as a potential D-I defensive star, most likely at outside linebacker or strong safety.

Chris Fetters, the Northwest Regional Recruiting Expert for Scout.com, has watched Pula play this year and a number of times throughout his high school career.

"He's a strong, tough kid,"' said Fetters. "He runs with a lean, always falling forward, and you rarely catch him behind the line of scrimmage. "

To me, he's a definite Division I player as a fullback or linebacker. I think he may grow a bit. He's a real tough player and a difference maker out there. He can play with pain and he understands the difference. That's a huge deal. Not a lot of [high school] kids learn that until they get to college.

"If he ends up in the secondary, he'd do best up close to the line on run support. He's certainly shown me he's a Division I capable player."

Fetters has tripled as editor-in-chief for Dawgman.com since 1999, the premier website for Washington Huskies athletics and recruiting coverage. He is also the Recruiting Editor for Sports Washington magazine along with his recruiting responsibilities for Scout.com.

Though both Washington and Washington State have been actively recruiting Pula, along with Oregon State, Portland State, Eastern Washington and BYU, he has not yet received any offers but is expecting several within the next few weeks.

Fetters wondered if the recent lack of interest from Washington and Washington State might be because Pula has received notification he would receive the Bill Gates Scholarship, covering tuition for Washington residents attending in-state schools. But Pula would still need to get at least a half scholarship to cover all other expenses like room and board.

"Even with the Bill Gates Scholarship, I still want to get a football scholarship offer for me to commit to any Washington school," Pula told TotalBlueSports.com.

Meanwhile, BYU has scored big with Pula with the consistent interest and prompt text responses from Cougar associate head coach Lance Reynolds, his only Cougar recruiting contact.

"Of all the coaches [recruiting me], Coach Reynolds and Coach Rasmussen from Eastern Washington have been the most consistent," said Pula. "Coach Reynolds is real. He seems like a down-to-earth coach and he was joking around with me.

"My goal is to simply play Division I ball, so that makes BYU my top choice. My preference is to play offense, but if my best chance to play is on defense, that's fine with me. I just want to play football. I love defense because I love to hit people. I know I can play strong safety or outside linebacker. I love the intensity and hitting on defense.

Pula's high school coach, D.J. Dobbins, said that as spectacular as Pula has been as his star running back, he agrees Pula's best prospects as a D-I college player is on defense.

"Roman has a defensive mentality on offense," said Dobbins. "He loves to hit people, whether he's running the ball or tackling people. I see him as a great outside linebacker. He's a running back at heart and he runs really hard and he has great vision. Roman does a lot of good things off his vision and quickness. In the right offense, he would be a real weapon.

"Roman is one of our most vocal team leaders and he leads by example – by the way he plays and practices. He knows and studies the game. For a high school kid, he knows a lot.

"Roman didn't play as much on defense this year because he did so much for us on offense and special teams, but Roman has great defensive instincts and he's a very explosive player. He does a lot of great things on both offense and defense, and he's going to be really missed next year."

For his part, Pula is focused on his academics and securing a firm D-I football scholarship. "Our coaches will copy any game we want, but we have to send out our own tapes," Pula said.

Pula currently has a 2.5 cumulative GPA and he took the SAT last Saturday. He scored just below 1100 on his first go-around and is aiming for 1500-1600 this time.

Asked to describe the positive points about the Div 1 schools recruiting him, Pula noted the following:

• WASHINGTON STATE: "It's probably my favorite college choice in-state because it's away from home and the city and you can study and get your work done. Also, my cousin, Ropati Pitoitua, is the starting defensive tackle there."

• UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: "It's close to home and they have a great tradition. They also have a lot of Polynesian players, and I like Coach Willingham's coaching history and philosophy.

• OREGON STATE: "Assistant coach Bruce Reid was writing me every week and he was loving the way I ran the ball, but he stopped calling me in the summer."

• BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY: "It's not a party school so you can focus on your game and get your school work done. Coach Reynolds came to my school this spring and I got to meet him. I've spoken to him about six times since spring. He invited me on a recruiting trip, but I wasn't interested then. Now I'm really interested in taking a recruiting trip there now. I hear BYU is doing really good and I keep track of them through my girlfriend, who is a Mormon and a big BYU fan. I also have cousins who are [LDS Church] members and my mom doesn't have a problem with me going to BYU. I also know they have a lot of Polys [Polynesians], which is a plus because I love being around Polys."

Commenting on BYU's strict Honor Code, Pula, who is not LDS, said: "I'm down with it and I agree with it. I don't smoke, drink (alcohol) or do any of that stuff so the Honor Code won't be a problem for me."

Career-wise, he noted he wants to be a football coach someday, "but my short term goals are to get my degree and hopefully have a chance to play at the next [professional] level."

One of his most compelling motivations is to help support his mother, Moana Pula, stepfather Viliamu Lemafa, and his five sisters aged 20 to 30.

"They've done so much and sacrificed so much for me," said Pula. "I want to make them proud and hopefully repay the love and support they've given me over the years."

Pula's parents divorced when he was still a youngster. His father, Barry Tinitali, has not played an active role in his life and Roman was so upset and felt abandoned that he insisted his mother legally change his last name to her maiden name of Pula seven years ago.

As an acknowledgement to his paternal grandmother, aunts and other family members on his father's side who have long supported him in his athletic endeavors, Roman made a pre-season request to his coaches to change his "playing" name this year – as a widely publicized running back – to Roman Tinitali-Pula.

Meanwhile, Pula noted that his stepfather has essentially been his father for the past 15 years.

"He's been there for me as a father-figure most of my life," said Pula of his stepfather. "I respect him a lot."

This "mama's boy," it seems, is rapidly becoming a man.


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