‘Endless Possibilities’ for Warrior Football
Aug 23, 2016 01:22PM ● Published by Tori LaRue
Taylorsville football players get ready for the 2016 season where “the sky is the limit,” according to their head coach Rod Wells. –Aryana Apelu
Gallery: ‘Endless Possibilities’ for Warrior Football [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
Taylorsville High School hasn’t made it to the last round of the playoffs since 1999 when they lost the championship to Skyline High School, but this may be their year, according to joint head coaches Pala Vaituu and Rod Wells.
“We have lots of young kids, so in the beginning, I didn’t think they were ready, but (offensive coordinator) Wayne (Manu Tuinei) has done a good job being here during the whole season working with the offensive line and (Defensive coordinator Tyler) Haslam’s done a good job working with the defensive line, and so now, man, it’s just like we cannot wait to play,” Vaituu said. “So barring injury, I personally think we are going to have a really good season”
In the early-to-mid-2000s it wasn’t uncommon for Taylorsville football to claim one victory game each season, but in the past four years, the Warriors recorded more wins than in the prior 10 years combined. The football history that’s “haunted” the school for years, is beginning to change, according to Wells.
The coaches attribute their success to the coaching staff’s belief system and the players conduct on and off the field.
“The change hasn’t necessarily been tangible, but we really started to win when we decided to put God first,” said Haslam. “We really believe God put us here together to help build quality young men.”
The eight-member coaching staff works in unison, governed by the values and principles they agree on, according to Manu Tuinei. The joint head coaches consider the rest of the coaching staff their team, so they regularly seek their input instead of dictating everything that should happen within the THS football program, Manu Tuinei added.
While the coaches share similar core values, they never push that on their players, Vaituu said. Instead, they continually encourage each of their players to live true to himself by honoring his own heritage and religion. In this way, the THS football program focuses on preparing young men for more than the upcoming season, Manu Tuinei said.
“Kids learn things here about working hard and dedicating themselves to a cause, and these are skills that transfer over to other aspects of life,” he said. “Not every kid is going to go to the NFL and be a superstar. Not everyone is going to be a Division 1 football player, but if they can be good men in the community—good husbands and fathers, I think we have done really well.”
Vaituu and Wells’ coaching staff has been in place four years. Since that time, THS administrators said they’ve noticed a difference in the conduct of football players.
“They’ve stopped bullying kids, and they’ve stopped hazing,” Vaituu said. “I think it’s really good for the school to see the transition of these kids.”
Quarterback Dane Leituala, left tackle Ewan Manu-Tuinei, linebacker Dylan Apelu, cornerback Tama Wilson, defensive end Josh Sterzer, wide receiver Jace Simons, tight end Chase Hess and defensive end T.J. Hess have changed what it means to be a football player at Taylorsville High School, Vaituu said.
“Those kids right there, they are the ones that lead this team,” Vaituu said. “If these kids were bad kids, then the rest of them would be just following after them, but most of our kids are following these guys, and they are great examples of just being great all-around—classroom, field, socially. I mean we have been blessed with good kids, and they are the ones that are actually moving this program forward—them and the kids who came before them.”
Recent players have improved Taylorsville’s program by bringing college recruiters to the school, something that rarely happened previously, Wells said. Rated as one of the top high school defensive ends in the nation by ESPN, Mufi Hunt had offers from many colleges, but decided on Michigan State, defensive lineman Lyric Bartley chose Washington State, and Lewitt Savini, also a defensive lineman, signed with El Camino College.
Vaituu hopes to see more players go on to play college football, and he believes his young 2016 team has time to develop the skills it takes to play at that level, he said. One of the players the coaches are most excited about is their varsity quarterback, Dane Leituala, who started as a freshman last year and ran for nearly 1,800 yards and passed for about 1,700. He’s back for year two.
“We are really excited because his knowledge and grasp of the concepts we are running is just—oh, it is night and day from last year until now, and so we expect some really big numbers with that quarterback,” Vaituu said.
Equally as important to the team is their starting left tackle Ewan Manu-Tuinei, who started his freshman and sophomore years, Vaituu added.
“It is nice to have a really good quarterback, and it’s nice to have someone who is protecting his blindside, so we’ll be blessed to have those two athletes playing together for another two years,” Vaituu said.
Taylorsville may not have the depth that other teams do, but their solid starters bring the potential for an amazing season, Wells said.
“Barring injury, I think the possibilities for us are endless,” Wells said. “We have the kids—who knows? If we can stay healthy and stay within ourselves and stay focused on our core beliefs of the program, you know, I think the sky's the limit for us.”