Any person who has ever lived in Lompoc, Calif., or followed the city’s football scene knows that the Taua family is football royalty.
The oldest son, Vai Taua, currently coaching on the East Los Angeles College staff, once pulverized opponents in the 805 at Cabrillo before bringing that same bruising rushing element to Nevada's pistol offense from 2006-2010. Then along came Ainuu Taua, who brought a wave of destruction at the line of scrimmage on defense and as an extra ball carrier on offense for Lompoc High before heading to UCLA in 2014. Now next in line in the Taua hierarchy is Lompoc’s most recruited player and fiery leader for the 2016-17 haul: Toa Taua.
The 2018 prospect has three scholarship offers, from Hawaii, Washington State and San Diego State as he enters his third season on varsity. Two other colleges - Fresno State and USC - have had coaches either sniff around or reach out to Taua’s head coach, Andrew Jones, to inquire about the running back/linebacker in recent months.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound three-star has been labeled around “The ‘Poc” as the most talented Taua brother. Taua, though, still prefers to be mentored by his successful older siblings.
“They tell me to make sure that I stay on top of school. They also tell me to always be the leader out on the field. They’re big on school,” Taua told Scout before a Lompoc practice on Aug. 22. “Whenever I mess up on the little things, they’re always on me. They’re on me every single day.”
Vai and Ainuu aren’t the only ones who have high expectations for the versatile prospect. Jones is another one who is banking on his player to lead a Braves team primed to defend their Los Padres League title and continue their stranglehold on Santa Barbara County opponents.
“He’s been the heartbeat of the team,” Jones said. “If he’s rolling and doing well, then we’re going to be doing well. If he’s down and having a bad play or series or his elbow hurts or something, then the whole team gets down. He’s going to bring the juice all the time.”
Jones and the LHS staff have put Taua in multiple positions on the field to give the Braves a strong chance to win, from running back to linebacker. But, heading into Lompoc’s huge season opener against traditional rival Arroyo Grande on Aug. 26, Jones and the Braves have experimented Taua at a new position: safety.
“Toa is going to play where we feel is best for the team,” Jones said. “He made some plays at linebacker for us and played some hybrid linebacker/safety for us. It depends on the game and if we’re playing against a two-back team or a spread team. Toa is a ‘Put me wherever you want me to play and we’ll go win’ type of player.”
As it is, Taua’s new spot on the field is the place where he wants to play at the level.
“It was the mindset I had (playing safety),” Taua said. “It’s definitely going to be hard to play college ball at linebacker with my size, especially if I have to deal with a 6-foot-8 lineman. I don’t think I would stand a chance. So that’s why I want to play safety.”
Taua has the kind of hard-nosed attributes that college coaches desire out of safeties. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot the open gap and blow a running play up when he lines up close to the line of scrimmage. He’ll lasso down mobile quarterbacks and drop back into coverage to disrupt a passing play as well.
He’s more renowned for being a violent finisher in the offensive backfield, as Taua uses the same low pad level, stiff arm and tenacity that made both of his brothers feared by opponents whenever they carried the rock. Jones, who coached Ainuu and won the CIF Southern Section Northwest Division title together in 2011, has witnessed the growth of the latest Taua over the years.
“As a freshman, he was raw and kind of immature at times. But he’s grown up quite a bit,” Jones said. “He’s still got some growing up to do. As far as a player goes, he’s got the kind of talent that we haven’t seen in a long time. He’s probably one of the most fearless football players I’ve ever coached.”
Does the seven-year head coach see playing resemblances between Ainuu and Toa?
“There’s a lot of similar attributes with both of them,” Jones said. “They’re charismatic guys and are very likeable. They’re obviously two completely different styles of players. They’re both gifted and are fun to coach.”
With the three early offers, plus the added interest from the Bulldogs and Trojans, Taua said he’s not rushing into a decision and adds “I’m more concerned about getting bigger and faster.”
Lastly, he’s looking to tackle something that Vai and Ainuu know quite well during their time in the City of Arts and Flowers: a bar that’s set well above eye level.
Said Taua: “It’s set very high this year. A lot of people are expecting a lot of big things from me plus my teammates. The bar is up there.”