Polynesian Power

Wisconsin is hoping Salt Lake City East athlete Ula Tolutau is the first of many Polynesian players who bring their abilities and family-style mentality to the Wisconsin program.

With head coach Gary Andersen and five of his assistant coaches having recruiting ties to the state of Utah, Wisconsin made it clear that recruiting that territory, and the Polynesian players in the region, is something the Badgers were going to dabble with going forward.

That decision paid off on Thursday.

Led by the recruiting efforts of defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a, Wisconsin reeled in its first out-of-state commit in the 2014 recruiting class from Salt Lake City (UT) East athlete Ula Tolutau.

Although he is listed as 72nd-best running back in the county by Fox Sports Next, Tolutau – a three-star athlete – projects to grow into either a fullback or a linebacker. The 6-1, 227-pound Tolutau picked Wisconsin over BYU, Utah, Hawaii and Utah State.

"I kind of wanted to go out of state, Wisconsin was always a dream school," said Tolutau. "Coach Andersen just happened to be the coach, so I just pulled the trigger."

In the subsequent weeks after they were hired, both Andersen and Kauha'aha'a said the biggest benefits are the personalities that have made Polynesian players appealing to many programs.

"The one thing about having Polynesian kids in your program — I've been interviewed on this before and I'll stick by it — our kids bring that family atmosphere, that family environment, family always comes first," Kauha'aha'a said previously. "It's unbelievable the way they bring that camaraderie, that 'I've-got-your-back' feel to the team."

Schools that can sell that (family atmosphere) and sell a community are what those guys are looking for, and I think the staff knows how to sell that," added recruiting analyst Jake Worten, who specializes in Hawaii and Utah for Fox Sports. "East is a great high school to get into and you start to build that legacy, I think that's big."

Having tried to build a family atmosphere around the program through spring practices, it's not a surprise to know Andersen believes Polynesian players would be a good fit into his UW program.

"I think they fit Wisconsin football, just like I think they fit the other programs I've been able to be with the last few years," he said. "The toughness, the work ethic, the family, the culture overall revolves around family. That's something that's very important to us at the University of Wisconsin."

Tolutau will be in the 2014 recruiting class, but likely wouldn't enroll at Wisconsin until 2016 because of the possibility of taking a two-year church mission. Military service and official church missions don't count against a player's five-year eligibility clock, meaning Tolutau will enroll as a mature freshman.

"You come back more of a man than an actual freshman," said Worthen. "He'll be further along in his development."

According to Worthen, Hawaii and Utah have some of the biggest concentration of Polynesian football players on the West Coast and sees a lot of those players that become linemen or linebackers. And while Utah has three Division 1 football programs, Worthen sees the state as a place Wisconsin could make a long-term impact, especially with the coaches UW has on its staff.

"Utah is easy environment to recruit," said Worthen. "Utah is a Pac 12 school, but they are newly established in that. BYU is an independent and that's a little bit different. Utah State is successful, but not on the same level as Wisconsin and the Pac 12. It's really a good region to establish a foothold in. "Utah is the most under-recruited state out West. It produces more talent than any state (in the West) besides California and Arizona. I would not be surprised to see Wisconsin get a foot hold there and hold on to that. It's a school that gives kids a chance to get out but not be far from home." While most of the Polynesian players wind up at schools in the West, Kauha'aha'a believes they would be a good fit at UW.

"I think we fit well anywhere," Kauha'aha'a said. "You've got to get one, so you can bring some other ones up here."

The Badgers got the first one in Tolutau. Judging by the response from other Polynesian players who have been offered by Wisconsin this spring, more are likely on the way.

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