Humble and hungry: Punahou defensive playmaker Tevarua Tafiti

Quiet moments are fairly rare for Punahou senior Tevarua Tafiti. Punahou is ranked No. 4 in the state with the Stanford-bound playmaker leading its defensive unit. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/ Punahou School DE/LB and Stanford commit Tevarua Tafiti photographed on Monday, September 20, 2021.

Another day, another opportunity for Tevarua Tafiti.

Win or lose, the Punahou senior relishes a chance to get better when his football team is on the turf at Alexander Field. Punahou’s 41-23 loss to No. 1 Saint Louis over the weekend did nothing to diminish the vision of Tafiti.

“Yes, with having a young team there were a lot of mistakes, but we gave a lot of effort. We just need to execute more in the game,” the 6-foot-3, 225-pound all-state defender said.

Tafiti, who has a 3.4 grade-point average, had nearly two dozen scholarship offers when he committed to Stanford.

“I’m looking forward to playing college football and meeting new people,” he said.

Coaches and media voted Tafiti to the Star-Advertiser all-state first team in 2019 when he was a sophomore. His range, instincts and versatility were unique. He began that ’19 season at 203 pounds. Now 225 pounds, he is lethal on the edge, taking on 300-pounders in the trenches when called on.

“Now, he’s bigger, stronger and they’re using him at various positions. They’re trying to put him in the right places at times. It shows how athletic he is,” Saint Louis coach Ron Lee said.

Lee compares Tafiti to former Saint Louis linebacker Nick Herbig. The longtime coach believes Tafiti’s potential is tied to his speed and agility, much like the former all-state player now at Wisconsin.

“Nick is really smart. He played one position and he’s definitely one of the top linebackers at Wisconsin. I really feel that he’ll be in the NFL. That kid is smart and he can run. He’s 215, 220 at the most. That’s what I see in Tafiti,” he said. “Don’t get too heavy. Don’t be a tweener.”

Kapolei coach and TV color commentator Darren Hernandez has a different comparison.

“Tafiti can do it all. He reminds me of Manti Te‘o. He can bulk up and be a defensive end or be a do-it-all standup outside linebacker,” Hernandez said.

Punahou coach Nate Kia has also been the defensive coordinator. Utilizing Tafiti has been a rare opportunity.

“In some ways, he’s the modern hybrid defender, and yet he’s also very much the old-school football player,” Kia said. “He is unique to me, but I’m certain many Punahou players will be compared to his standard — both on and off the field — for years to come.”

That’s the future. The bond that the Buffanblu have emanates from their leaders. Consistent and cerebral all-state talent isn’t always common.

“He’s kind of quiet, keeps to himself and he’s really nice,” quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele said. “And really humble.”

See the feature story on Tevarua Tafiti in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.


  1. ??? September 21, 2021 7:11 pm

    Perfect Fit for Notre Dame’s Hybrid LB position & their prestigious education!
    Hopefully he continues the Awesome Punahou-Notre Dame Pipeline?

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