Tevarua Tafiti never takes a thing for granted, and often says nothing about his own accolades.
The 6-foot-3 defensive end collected his 13th football scholarship offer, earning an opportunity with Stanford. The 208-pound junior-to-be was a Star-Advertiser All-State selection last year, emerging as a scintillating playmaker for a stellar, deep Punahou defensive unit.
“No matter where you line him up, he will make plays,” Punahou interim head coach Leonard Lau said.
Inside linebackers coach Anthony Debold appreciates Tafiti’s humility, but doesn’t hesitate to praise the hard-working student-athlete. Tafiti’s 3.4 grade-point average is a big reason Stanford became the seventh Pac-12 Conference school join the recruiting war.
“It’s just the beginning. There’s going to a lot more of them,” Debold said. “He’ll probably have 30 (offers) before he graduates.”
Offer list (alphabetical order)
Possibly the best defensive performance by Tafiti last season wasn’t even on island soil.
“He dominated their big tackles at Long Beach Poly,” Debold said. “He just made them look silly, but he’s a humble kid, makes the play, gets back. Doesn’t beat his chest.”
“Teva is not only a great football player, but a better teammate and student. He gets along with all his teammates and leads by example on and off the field. He’s a very respectful young man to everyone on campus,” Lau said.
Punahou was 10-2 last season, falling only to eventual Open Division state champion Saint Louis twice. Saint Louis is the prohibitive favorite in 2020, if there is a season, but Punahou returns several key contributors defensively, including linebacker Kahanu Kia and cornerback Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen.
Tafiti’s mobility and versatility Punahou to maximize his quick-twice playmaking skills.
“What we do is he’s so athletic, we’ve been blessed with kids like Marist, but he’s got a nose for the ball but we got him in the right position. It doesn’t happen unless the D-line attacks the right gap,” Debold said. “We have nice schemes for him and a lot of film study. He’s a phenomenal athlete. His eyes are excellent. The RPO, mesh point, down block, pulling guard, if they guy is heavy or light in his set, the whole picture. We’ll have him at eight yards from the line of scrimmage, then he can creep and or he can go. See ball, get ball.”
The upcoming season brings a new set of rules regarding practice. Punahou is already anticipating big changes if and when the first practice arrives.
“What we’re going to have to do with this COVID thing is a lot of cross training. He’ll play that high hole in the Tampa 3, that’s the kind of range they’re looking for in the RPO (defense). Like Marist Liufau,” Debold said, referring to a former Buffanblu and current Notre Dame defensive back.
Tafiti has not indicated any preference on his list of offers.
“If he goes to Notre Dame, that would be three ILH linebackers,” Debold said, referring to recent Saint Louis graduates Jordan Botelho and Nick Herbig. “That would be cool. He’s more worried about the senior class, so much. He’s just so bummed for them with the way the season is going. He feels like they deserve it. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
Debold believes Tafiti will continue to raise the bar as he fills out.
“I met a lot of his uncles, talk about mass, and his dad is put together. I think Teva is going to get thick. He’s so young like Marist. (Liufau) was 16-and-a-half as a senior. He got to Notre Dame and he’s eating steaks and potatoes on a regular basis,” he said.
Names like Tafiti, Mendiola-Jensen and Kia have landed on white boards in dozens of college coaches’ offices. They’ve been proactive in making contact with recruiters, particularly online.
“Social media has a big impact. Players today can get their film and workouts on Twitter and tag coaches to see it,” Lau said. “Coaches don’t have to travel as far now to evaluate. It’s still important for student-athletes to have quality game film to confirm their workouts that they are putting out on social media. Another important issue is high school coaches, who will share important information regarding how the student-athlete is as a student, teammate and person.”
The Buffanblu staff is looking forward, and crossing their fingers, for the coming season.
“Teva’s motor sets him apart. It’s non-stop and relentless. You see this every day in practice. Every rep is 100 percent,” Lau added. “Everyone can improve their game. That’s the scary part. Teva’s best football is still ahead of him.”