Faatui Tuitele could have attended virtually any school he wanted to.
All four participants in this year’s College Football Playoff extended scholarship offers to the 6-foot-4, 299-pound defensive tackle. His final five included the likes of traditional powerhouses in Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Texas.
So when he announced his commitment to Washington on Nov. 18, the decision went beyond football. It was about finding the place where he felt most at peace.
On Wednesday afternoon on campus, Tuitele made it official in signing his letter of intent: UW is the school for him.
“When I went to visit them, they were so different,” he said. “The vibe, the environment, the coaches, the people, everything about them was just so different from the Alabamas and the Ohio States, the LSUs. At UDub, I felt at home over there. I fit in comfortably over there.”
Tuitele’s recruitment blossomed after his sophomore season, when he physically dominated the HHSAA title game in a 30-14 win over Kahuku with a game-high 11 tackles to go with a sack and forced fumble. He followed that with two more state titles and consecutive selections to the Star-Advertiser All-State team, including defensive player of the year honors his senior season.
Rivals and ESPN each list Tuitele as a top-100 recruit, while 247 lists him as the 46th-best player in the class of 2019. When all was said and done, the defensive tackle chose the Huskies over 38 other FBS offers.
An unofficial visit during the summer before his junior year is when Tuitele says he first envisioned a future for himself in Montlake. An official visit last weekend affirmed it.
“When I visited UDub on an unofficial, it felt so right for me and it felt good. I felt that it was the place that I needed to go, but I also knew it was an early stage in the process so I felt that I needed to keep my mind open about everything and keep my options open,” Tuitele said. “That was one of the times where I knew UDub was one of the places I wanted to go.”
Relieved as he may be to put the recruiting process to an end, his prevailing sentiment on Wednesday was gratitude towards even being given time of day in the first place.
“The whole process was just a blessing for my family and I. It’s something I never thought I’d be a part of. Just to be able to get all these offers from these schools is a blessing,” Tuitele said. “I couldn’t have done it if it weren’t for my parents and my teammates, and everybody that’s helped me. Most importantly, God.
“This process was a blessing and no doubt at times it was frustrating. It got tiring in a way, but when times get hard like that you just gotta remember that some people don’t get to experience this kind of thing. All I can do is just be grateful for it and I’m so happy that I was able to experience this with my family.”
Perhaps no other assistant in college football has made his mark on the state of Hawaii as much Huskies’ defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe. Last year, he was the point recruiter for Pearl City’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui. This year’s impressive Hawaii haul includes Tuitele, Kaimuki defensive tackle Sama Paama, Kahuku linebacker Miki Ah You, Punahou kicker/punter Tim Horn and Kapolei offensive lineman Julius Buelow.
“Coach Malloe, he’s also a Hawaii boy,” Tuitele said. “He understands what us Hawaii boys go through and what the transition is like. I think he’ll help out me and Sama, Miki, Tim and Julius to adapt to that new lifestyle.
“I feel like we’re gonna build something special at UDub and we’re gonna hopefully influence the future generations of Hawaii ballers to come join us at UDub. Hopefully we’ll leave our legacy.”
Tuitele says he’ll enroll at Washington in June during the school’s LEAP summer program. Until then, he has the All-American and Polynesian Bowls to showcase his abilities. He also has plans to “enjoy every moment that I get to spend with my friends and my family and everybody around me, and also the beaches and food because when I get to Seattle, it’s gonna be a whole different environment.”
Studying law is a possibility in college, but Tuitele also has NFL dreams. With a stroke of the pen, followed by pictures surrounding a handful of family members afterwards, the ceremony was an appropriate celebration for how far he’s come.
Time will tell how much further Tuitele ends up going. Wednesday afternoon at Saint Louis was just the beginning.
“It feels so surreal. This is something that we all dreamed about. This is something we worked all our lives for,” Tuitele said. “Finally getting to make those dreams a reality now is a good feeling, but it’s the first step for us to be able to help out our families and forwarding our future. I can’t wait and I’m excited.”