There has been enough bad news in the young life of Anthony Sagapolutele, but the Saint Louis senior refuses to back down.
Even in the morbid punchline of a year the 2020 has become, the talented defensive tackle is savoring every bit of good news. The 6-foot, 260-pound playmaker received his first Division I (FCS) football scholarship on Thursday from Valparaiso.
“I’ve been told, I’ve been doubted about playing D-I. Just to be able to see that there’s a D-I that wants me, it’s a feeling that I cannot explain. I’m so blessed to have that opportunity to play at the next level,” Sagapolutele said on Friday night.
Valparaiso, a member of the Pioneer Football League, is making a strong push for island talent this year. Unlike most offers, Sagapolutele’s first came via snail mail. Then it was time to share the joy.
“At first, we had a group chat with my family. They were the very first people I told. I took a picture of the letter,” he said. “It was a physical letter. This letter was from the head coach (Landon Fox).”
Nickelbacks coach RJ Ghilarducci has been the point man on Valpo’s recruiting blueprint of Hawaii.
“I first came in contact with one of the recruiters there, Coach G. He contacted me through Twitter and showed his interest. This was awhile back, actually, at the beginning of summer before I left on my trip,” Sagapolutele said.
That trip took him to Florida and the FBU Camp, where he earned honors as one of the top defensive linemen.
“Coach (Ghilarducci) gave me a call telling me that they liked my tape and they were very impressed and going to show the defensive coaches and see their thoughts. That was (2019) game video. I’m not too sure if he’s been on Twitter lately and seen (my new videos). I should send it to him,” Sagapolutele said.
Though teammates at Saint Louis, the four-time defending Open Division state champion, consider Sagapolutele the finest interior D-lineman in the state, he is likely to sit through this senior season. He repeated sophomore year, when his father, Peter Sr., died. He did not play football that fall. The powers-that-be rarely, if ever, allow student-athletes to recoup a fourth year of high school eligibility during a fifth year.
That’s what makes opportunities a prized possession for Sagapolutele, who added 30 pounds in the offseason. He also ran a hand-timed 4.9 40-yard dash in Las Vegas the day before flying to Florida for the FBU Camp.
“My uncle (Saia Motuapuaka) said it could be faster or slower,” he said.
Valparaiso’s offer is a partial scholarship, but it is still D-I.
“For me, I want to go somewhere where the coaches can trust me with my skills and, of course, with the work I put in, that they can put me in the game. For me, I really think when there’s a certain trust, a place where I can place my trust in them and they an place their trust in me, that’s important to me,” he said. “Valpo is a great spot and a great option for me. We’ll just have to find out about what my scholarship will look like. They don’t offer full rides, so we’ll have to see what we can pay. They’ll look at grades and financial aid.”
Sagapolutele fills up the ledger academically with a 3.57 grade-point average.
“Everything that’s offered to me, who knows, that could be the next step of my life. The man upstairs gives opportunities to us. I want to be grateful for it. I could be at home and have no offers. You have to roll with what you got,” he said.
Sagapolutele has some savvy video techies in his family who are patching video together from the FBU Camp and the Giant Skillz Athletic (GSA) Camp in Utah.
“I traveled with another family to the FBU Camp, so their dad put one together for me. The GSA Camp, we all traveled as a family and we had our own video. I was able to play along with Kapolei’s linemen team. It was surprising. I didn’t know they were going, so I joined them and we ended up coming in third place. It was great competition,” Sagapolutele said. “I just want them to know, kids in Hawaii, we can play football, too.”
Early Saturday morning, Sagapolutele announced an offer from D-II Eastern New Mexico. The Greyhounds play in the Lone Star Conference.
Update: On Saturday afternoon, Lawrence Tech (Southfield, Mich.) offered a scholarship to Sagapolutele. The Blue Devils play in the NAIA’s Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference.
Mountain West Conference member San Diego State has shown interest.
“He was the coach at Moanalua (Savaii Eselu). We got in contact. At first I couldn’t believe. I was out of words when he called me. My uncle Pio (Sagapolutele)’s alma mater, and he got drafted to the NFL. It was actually right after the GSA Camp,” Sagapolutele said. “I’m not too sure if they’ll offer. If they did, that would be great.”
He also has an offer from NCAA Division III Lewis and Clark.
One of his cousins is Punahou quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele, who had a solid season as a freshman starter.
“He puts in a lot of work. His future is bright. After the first time we played them, I told him he looked like a senior. By the time he’s a senior, he could have a ring on his finger,” Sagapolutele said.
With the 2020 fall football season postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he misses the passion and strategy of defense.
“To have the attention we get if I do get to play, I pray to God that I do, I’m a coaches’ player, so wherever they tell me to play, that’s what I’ll do to the best of my ability. Open up gaps for my linebackers or my other linemen, I’ll do that. Football isn’t a me sport,” Sagapolutele said.
The Saint Louis defensive unit of ’19 brought a slightly different look with lighter, faster down linemen like Sagapolutele — who was at 230 pounds then — and Darrell Masaniai. Stanley McKenzie manned the middle en route to Star-Advertiser All-State honors. McKenzie is now a freshman at Cal. Masaniai, an All-State second-team selection, is at San Diego State.
“Stanley McKenzie, that man, you need at least two people on him. Him being doubled, it created opportunities for me to make plays. Also for Darrell Masaniai. Him coming down to defensive line from outside linebacker, it opened up our pass rush game. That man is quick and it created a different version of Saint Louis D-line. You don’t really see small D-linemen at Saint Louis usually. It’s usually power, but it was good to see something creative,” Sagapolutele recalled.
With months before the start of football season, he figures to be a big part of Saint Louis’ scheme even if he isn’t eligible. There may not be a more dangerous and driven practice player at Kalaepohaku. By January or February, if and when the season begins, Sagapolutele figures to be at 260 or heavier.
“Right now, 260 is good. I’ve talked to my brothers about it and they think if I go any heavier, I should build muscle instead of fat. I’m going to try and maintain it and stay in shape, of course. I’ll probably bump up a couple more pounds if anything,” he said.
He has the speed, but if Sagapolutele becomes more agile, the possibilities expand. Sagapolutele loves working out, and his explosiveness could allow defensive coordinators to use him like a chess piece, similar to former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
“When Harrison was with the Steelers, that’s my team. The curtains in my room are Steelers. I liked them since they had Troy Polamalu. James Harrison, I follow him on IG and I pay attention to his workouts and stuff,” Sagapolutele said. “It would be different for me. I’m not used to dropping back, but if that’s where they want to put me, I have no argument with that. It’ll take some time to pick it up and do it right, but with time and reps I should be able to pick it up. I’m up to any challenge.”
All of the work in the weight room, running up hills and on the sand, could be moot this academic year. Sagapolutele is praying for a season, even if he doesn’t get to play. He’ll stay as busy as humanly possible.
“As of right now, I don’t really have any other camps coming up or anything, but I am just keeping my schedule open as much as possible. If one opens up, I’ll try to make it to that camp. With COVID the way it is now, it’s going to be even harder for us. Especially not having season highlights. I feel bad for all the seniors who want to get looked at and recruited. I wish I could do something about it,” he said. “It’s really a senior nightmare for all of us.”
Lockdown staples update
Sagapolutele: “I just saw ‘Clash of the Titans’ on Netflix. “300”, “Troy”. I’m really into those kind of movies. Medieval time movies.”
Sagapolutele: “From this trip I learned a lot about nutrition and how to take care of my body. My uncle in Las Vegas, he was really into that kind of stuff and I started taking natural things instead of always buying it from the store, eating fast food. I learned about cleaning out my system. After a lot of hard work, you have to put the same amount of time into taking care of it, like stretching. Body Fix Hawaii, that’s where I go to for recovery. Uncle Kekoa (Young), he really gets my body right.
“You don’t have to eat less. It’s about healthier choices. Drinking more natural drinks. He makes his own protein drinks from sea moss. He said the powdered protein is really hard on the liver. He boils the sea moss, drains it out, and it becomes a thick slime. Put it in the jar, put it in the fridge then after a workout he blends it with fruits. He doesn’t follow a meal plan. He has his own research, and I’m very interested in that. It doesn’t really taste like anything.
“Twenty years from now my body won’t be working the same, so I want to start being healthy. That also goes into what I want to major in, sports management. Become a personal trainer if football doesn’t work out.”
Sagapolutele: “To my brothers, my mom (Maniate) and my dad. Love you, Dad. This is for you. Shout out to the man above. Shout out to God. My family’s so big. Shout out to everybody. Shout out to my supporters, as well, and the 808 and all the people who have helped me throughout the process.”