Rivals MVP honor, Syracuse offer for Farrington OL Iapani Laloulu

Trench Dawgz Coach Whitley Fehoko is flanked by Iapani "Poncho" Laloulu, left, and Sione Tavo Motuapuaka. Photo courtesy of Trench Dawgz.

The accolades and scholarship offers are real for Iapani Laloulu.

From Honolulu to Atlanta, his name is gaining traction on prospect whiteboards. Even up in Syracuse, the sophomore is a wanted commodity. Syracuse became the third school to offer a football scholarship to the 6-foot-3, 350-pound offensive lineman.

That offer came after Laloulu was named the MVP of offensive linemen at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge in Atlanta. Following in the footsteps of older brother Fa‘aope Laloulu Jr., now playing for Oregon, the young man also known as Poncho thoroughly dominated some of the top defensive linemen at the Rivals camp.

He arrived in Georgia with an uncle, Moli Vaka, and sister, Failagi, after a long journey. Twenty-five hours from departure in Honolulu to arrival in Atlanta, Laloulu got some rest before the one-on-one battles on Friday morning.

“I got there the day before the camp. Then I couldn’t sleep. I slept real late and got four or five hours (of sleep),” he recalled.

Two years ago, Oregon and Hawaii were the first two programs to offer him scholarships. Syracuse’s recent offer is in line with its recruiting trail of late. The Orangemen successfully recruited Saint Louis’ Kalan Ellis in February, and also have an offer to Crusader trench man La‘akea Kapoi, a senior.

The Rivals honor, though, is rare. Doors are going to open. It will just take more time for any prospect in the class of 2023.

“For me, it’s not about the fame. It’s about getting looked at by colleges,” Laloulu said.

Iapani Laloulu worked hard and voyaged a long way to earn the offensive line MVP honor at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge. Photo courtesy of Iapani Laloulu.

Returning to the islands and going to conditioning workouts at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium is enough to keep any top athlete grounded. Numbers are somewhat small at this point as student-athletes get their physicals and other business in order before stepping on the field.

“Right now, we’re getting there numbers-wise. There’s a lot of kids that are hungry. There’s a lot of linemen. We’re getting there,” Laloulu said.

Since the pandemic began, Laloulu was one of the few who were still working out daily through any means necessary. That meant lifting weights in the yard at his family’s residence and running sprints in Pauoa Valley with the Trench Dawgz. Sometimes it was a mile-run. When restrictions eased, they lifted daily at the home of Kaeo Akana and his father, coach Kip Akana.

“One of my biggest preparations was making sure I was in condition. The mainland kids have speed. Hawaii kids are already built with strength, so as long as we’re aggressive, some of them will just quit. Not all of them, but speed-wise on the mainland, it’s crazy,” he said.

The workouts will always be there in between on-campus school conditioning and seasons.

“From all those early morning workouts in Pauoa with coach Kip, Kaeo, Jackie (Johnson) and Ope before he left, we’d lift every morning. Run 40s up the hills or one lile up the road. That really got me in shape,” Laloulu said.

He posted a 4.0 grade-point average in the spring semester and now has a cumulative GPA of 3.3. While some students struggled with distance learning, Laloulu thrived.

“For me, it wasn’t so bad. I used to hate getting up early, getting ready for school, but with distance, I would get up, eat cereal or my mom or uncle would make breakfast, set up my wifi and wait until (online) class starts,” he said. “This was easier for me. If I needed to ask any questions, we couldn’t go to campus in the first (fall) semester, but for the second semester, I used al the opportunities that I could to go there.”

The technology was key when he went on trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The Trench Dawgz played a game in Arizona during the school year.

“I was already caught up on all my work,” Laloulu said.

One of the highlights of a difficult year was seeing older brother Ope back home, helping the Dawgz at practices.

“He came back and gave me some tips on playing football at a higher level. He brought one of his teammates, Kai (Arneson),” Laloulu said. “I miss my brother. He calls every day. My mom calls him every morning, every night or whenever he’s not in school or practice or meetings.”

Older football players from schools across Oahu have benefited from using social media to post videos and make contact with college coaches. Laloulu will be a junior this fall, and with an improved GPA, the doors of opportunity will likely open en masse.

“I’m expecting a lot of calls and stuff, but it really doesn’t matter. If they aren’t going to offer me, I’ll leave it in God’s hands and just pray every day,” he said. “I just focus on school, my parents, my main people. I want to take it to the league and take care of my parents.”

Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu, Farrington, OL, 6-3, 350
Oregon 2019
Hawaii 2019
Syracuse 6/18/21

Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu’s Lockdown Staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Gravity Falls”

“My all-time favorite. It’s on Disney Plus. It’s a mystery.”

2. “Nacho Libre“

“Oh man, I watch that movie over and over since it got on Netflix. My favorite part is when he’s singing right before he fights Ramses.”

3. “Ip Man”

“All the Ip Mans, I’ve watched them.”

Top 3 food/snack/drinks

1. Steak

“My mom (Leslie) or my sister makes it. Whenever they cook, I’m just grateful. I’m not that good of a cook. I just make the easiest food. I’ll make eggs and some corned beef.”

2. Chicken

“Whatever type of chicken. Mine would be probably fried chicken, shoyu chicken or huli huli chicken. My sister and my mom are the best cooks I know. I get huli chicken when we go Kahuku side, Mike’s Huli Chicken (in Kahaluu), whenever we have family stuff over there. I like Jolibee’s chicken.”

3. Nothing else.

Top 3 music artists

1. Josh Tatofi – “Perfect to Me” and “Ofa Mo‘oni”

2. Samoan and Tongan music

“I just like Samoan and Tongan songs, and gospel songs. More of the genres than favorite artists. Our family is Samoan and Tongan. My dad (Fa‘aope Laloulu Sr.) is Samoan and my mom is Tongan.”

New life skill: guitar.

“I learned how to play the guitar. My neighbor, my cousin’s husband (Chris Passi), he taught me. I borrowed his guitar and I’m still borrowing it. One of the songs he taught me was “The Goodness of God.” I can sing a little bit. I sing it around my family.”

Shout outs

“First and foremost, thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for this day, to my parents for putting the word of God in me, to go beyond my limits and still focus and be obedient. To my coaches, Coach Whitley (Fehoko) of Trench Dawgz. He’s prepared me not only in football, but in life. You always have to be on your 10 toes, no matter what the situation, you still have to go. My siblings, my family and friends.”


  1. ??? June 26, 2021 5:05 am

    Kid is a BEAST @ only 10th grade!
    Stay healthy & good luck.

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