Tupou is ready for Husky career to begin

When someone says they are heading to Hawaii, the images that come to mind are of surf and sand as well as a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere. That wasn't the case when future Husky defensive lineman Taniela Tupou headed to the Big Island to get himself ready for the next four or five years and now that he's received his NCAA Clearinghouse approval he says it's all been worth it...

Tani is an engaging young man, shy at first, even with those who know him well, but sooner-or-later he's laughing and smiling while telling stories and making jokes.

The problem is, those same personality traits that will serve him well in life down the road, were also close to his downfall as he almost squandered the opportunity to play college football while receiving a high-quality education.

"I had a 2.1 in my core classes and I had taken the tests (SAT and ACT) eight times between the two of them," Tani told Dawgman.com recently. "I had an 850 on the tests, so I had to get straight A's my final semester of school in order to qualify and it was the absolute hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I did it."

Tani admits to being a bit hard-headed when it came to school.

"I sorta was making up for my freshman and sophomore years when I didn't do as well," Tani acknowledged. "But then when I was getting recruited, I knew what I needed to do, but then I was just being a typical kid and not listening to what my parents and my coaches and my teachers were telling me."

"It was more than frustrating," his father Mo, a former football player himself, said as Tani looked on a bit sheepishly. "We knew he had all this opportunity lying in front of him and it was all laid out for him and he wasn't getting it done.

"We knew we had to do something and eventually it came down to either 'you go and get this done' or 'you go to school around here and you get a job'."

Mo's advice wasn't just parental, it also came from experience as he played at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California after enjoying a standout prep career in Hawaii.

"I knew going to a JC isn't the way to get your grades and football in order," Mo said convincingly. "Something had to give and by the time it came down to it, it was either get it done or you're done with football."

So with those options in front of him, Tani had a choice to make -- go to Hawaii and live with his uncle while he got his grades in order or stay home and give up the game he loves to play.

"It took until late February and then finally Tani came to us and said 'OK, I'll go' and the next day he was on a flight to Hawaii," his mother, Kawai, recalled. "We had no time to waste because it was getting so far into the semester that he wasn't going to be able to do it, so we purchased the tickets that night and he was on the plane the next day."

To say it was a tough transition for Tani would be an understatement.

"I called a lot," Tani admits now with an embarrassed grin. "I was really homesick. I didn't know many people out there and I was living with my uncle (Sam Kekuaokalani) and my cousin and all I did was go to seminary, go to school and work out.

"I also had a lot of chores and stuff like that I had to do."

While there, Tani's schedule consisted of waking up at 5:30 am to get to seminary by 6 o'clock where he would remain for an hour.

He would then head to school (Kealakehe High School) at 7:30 am and be there until about 3 pm.

"One of my electives was weight-training, so I did that for at least an hour and sometimes two during the day," Tani said. "Then after school, my uncle is the head basketball coach and now the head football coach there, and we would work out for sometimes three hours so I wouldn't be done until about six or even a little later.

"Then when I got home it was my chores and homework. Sometimes I had to make dinner, sometimes I had to clear the table and sometimes I had to do other stuff.

"I did that for three months, so when I came back it was a lot easier to be back home."

While Tani was out on the Big Island getting things straight, Kawai spent a lot of time speaking with the NCAA as well as the UW Compliance office about things as well as Husky safeties coach Jeff Mills, who was the coach who recruited Tani to Washington.

"Coach Mills was great about everything and he supported what we needed to do," Kawai said. "Marilou (Michelena) in the Compliance office was great and gave us her blessings on doing what we needed to do for Tani to get this done and we worked with her on all of it.

"We went online to see what classes counted and what we needed to do and I got things double-checked with her before we did anything."

Tani arrived on the Big Island in early March and spent the next 90 days focusing on his grades and his workouts, but he never lost touch with those he cared about.

"My friends were just like 'man, that sucks', but they all supported me and my girlfriend, she was a freshman up at Western Washington, it was tough on her, but she was real supportive of me and what I needed to do," Tani said. "When I finally got it all done and graduated, it was just a relief to know I had gotten everything done that I needed to get accomplished.

"Then I just had to wait on things."

And wait...and wait...and wait...

"Patience was tough to come by," admitted Kawai. "We were just waiting on Archbishop Murphy to get his transcripts in, but that took a little while, almost a month actually, before we got it all in and then we got the okay from the NCAA Clearinghouse that Tani's stuff was all in and he had qualified."

"I got a text on my phone from (the NCAA) saying that I was cleared and I was like 'Yes!' and I was jumping up and down," Tani said. "I was so excited because this is my dream, something I've wanted for so long and to think I almost missed out on it was hard, especially when it was something that I caused and could have prevented."

So this cautionary tale has a happy ending, but Tani, Mo and Kawai all had their own thoughts for people who's sons or daughters are trying to get themselves eligible to play college sports.

"Listen to your parents," Tani said with a grin as he shook his head. "I know that seems so easy to do, but for kids it's just not something we understand early on."

"Keep on top of your kids," Mo added. "Make sure you know what they need to do and make sure they are doing it."

"I'd say they need to read up on things and know what needs to be accomplished," Kawai said. "If you don't do that, I don't care what level your kid will play at, you are going to waste the opportunity to have school paid for and that's such a big thing nowadays."

With that in mind, Tani, spending one last week with his family before heading to Montlake to join the rest of the 2011 recruiting class on July 6th for the start of the LEAP program, said he plans to take advantage of the opportunity ahead of him.

"This means so much to me," Tani said. "I just can't wait to get there and get started."

It's been a long journey, but even through some tough times, Tani and his family have realized their dreams -- getting an education from the University of Washington while also playing a little football.

Taniela Tupou Scout Profile

Notes - Tani said he currently weighs 285 pounds and, while he isn't maxing out, he has been benching 315 pounds 10 times and has been power-cleaning 295 pounds eight times in his workouts; Tani and his family all agree that he may or may not take his LDS mission after his freshman season -- "We're leaving that up to him," Kawai said; Tupou said he's been in contact with Dexter Charles, his soon-to-be roommate, who continued to check in on his progress.

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