Not your average two-sport star

When you try and combine two sports, the results vary. Often offensive line coaches like a player who has a solid background in basketball. It means they have perhaps better feet and hands than those that don't. When you are a defensive coach, though, maybe even one that coaches linebackers, what sport could combine just as effectively? How about Rugby. It's what Apiata Tuihalamaka says made him the football player he is today.

Since he was a youngster playing rugby on the islands, Apiata Tuihalamaka has played and had a passion for rugby. Some call it football without pads, but it's probably even a little rougher than that. According to Apiata, there were rules to live by in Rugby that would get you ejected from regular football games.

"We had six points that were key points we were coached to hit, where it would make the biggest impact," Apiata said of rules and guidelines when he plays rugby. "You got the upper chest, which is this really big zone and then you have the neck, which I like the best. You have the left arm too , and then you have the stomach, the mouth and the ribs."

"I like hitting in the ribs, because they always scream when you hit them there. That's pretty funny."

You can imagine that Apiata is no joy to face on the rugby field, but he'd tell you that there are players much bigger than he is as some of them stand up to 6 foot, 5 inches and can weigh over 300 pounds. At 6 foot, 4 inches himself, but weighing just 220, Tuihalamaka would say that difference teaches you to take your shots when you have them.

"Oh yeah, you don't let anyone off easy out there, because they aren't going to do it for you," he said. "Besides, it's fun when you get to take someone off their cleats by their neck."

"They don't let you do that in football."

There's a lot of that they wouldn't let you do without a definite and maybe even an ejection from the game. It was just one of the many things he had to adjust to as he warmed himself to this very American game. Oddly enough, one of the biggest early adjustments was the wardrobe.

"I put the pads on for the first time and I was like ‘what is this'," he said. "I didn't really like it at first, because you don't feel as free out there. But when I realized that it hurt a lot less when I hit someone, I was like ‘yeah, this is ok', and I just started unloading on people."

You could call that his mantra if you like; taking on players, whether he's playing the offensive or defensive side of the ball. If he's got the ball in his hands as a running back, don't think he's trying to juke you. He's looking for the first sucker that will actually try to get in his way. And on defense, well, he's trying to get in everyone's way.

"It's football, man," Apiata said. "Coaches like when you are aggressive and I know I am that. That's probably what's got me some of the attention."

Right now it's Oregon and Oregon State, along with UNLV, Arizona and Nebraska, who have shown him the most interest thus far, all of those schools having offered in writing. You can throw in the entire Pac 10 as to some of the other teams showing him a lot of attention.

That's good, because even though he's got a genuine love for Rugby, his season just ending recently, he knows where his bread and butter will be in the future. "That's where the money is that," he said. "But if Rugby had something similar that paid as much, I'd probably still play football instead."

"I've gotten a passion for it now and all I can think of is what I need to do to make myself the best I can be so I can follow guys like Troy Polamalu to the league."

The defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is just one of many players Apiata idolizes right now. He credits the fact of having so many role models as to one of the big reasons he's living his dream and trying to achieve more, rather than having gone down a different road.

And he also credits his time playing rugby as to another reason he's on the straight and narrow and a big reason why he says he has the biggest asset he'll need in not just achieving the professional dream, but achieving his collegiate dream as well. "It's all about mental toughness and what you are willing to do to make it," he said. "That sport will make you real tough, physically, but definitely mentally."

From his grades, to his physical training, Apiata says he sees and feels like he is getting better everyday. He's studying for his SAT and he's working like a freak in the weight room. He combines that with an attitude that is probably one other significant thing that has changed about him, which actually could have a dramatic effect on where he ends up going to school.

"I used to be just a big old Momma's boy, but I'm not really like that anymore," he said. "I always thought places like USC or UCLA would be where I ended up and that's really where I wanted to go."

"Nowadays, though, I'm thinking that I need a change. I need to just get out and see something else, you know, something different than what I am used to seeing. I don't know, just kind of a change."

That would bring all of the schools mentioned above into play, and of course, all of them are those he's strongly considering. For the Husker fans interested in just what this native to Ocean fronts would feel about the Midwestern landscape, Apiata said it wasn't landscape that attracted him to the Huskers, long before he was ever offered.

"That weight program is the best there is. That's all I ever hear when someone says Nebraska," he said. "I'm all over that, man, because I know I need to get bigger, stronger and just bulk up a lot if I am going to make it in the league."

"That's the place to do it. Watching them on TV, that's what you always hear about them. You go there and you get big."

Apiata is doing a little of that on his own right now, but he's also trying to get his name a little bigger too. To that end he's heading to a bunch of camps over the off-season, USC, Stanford and Oregon those already scheduled. And he knows he wants to visit Nebraska, but he's still got to get that set up and he's pretty adamant that he will. "I'm definitely visiting there, because I have to see what that place is like and just get to look at everything," he said. "I got one of their letters around here for camps, so I am going to make sure I check that out and see if I can get down there to show them what I can do."

That's odd enough as he already has an offer from them, but as he said, it's not about just impressing a little, but impressing someone a lot. "Where I want to get, you just can't be good or just ok," he said. "You've got to be one of the best. That means it's non stop working at trying to get better, which is what I am planning to do."

"You can't stop, not in the weight room, not on the field and not with the grades. You've got to do it all to really be one of the best."

As to any favorites, Apiata said that he does have a top five and while he's looking to expand his horizons, he still can't go without having what he considers the two local "biggies" on the list. "Right now it's got to be USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Nebraska and Notre Dame," he said. "Those are the ones that I am looking at right now."

Tuihalamaka said that of his official visits, he'd probably take a couple during the season and save the rest for afterwards, but he already knew one game he would definitely be going to see. "I'm going to see USC play Nebraska," he said. "That's two teams I am looking at and that should be a big game."

"I can't wait to see them face off."

Apiata finished last season with 508 yards on 67 carries as a running back, scoring three touchdowns and on defense, he had 58 tackles, including 6.5 sacks. Apiata said that he currently has a 2.9 GPA

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