Most people aren’t inclined to mess with someone named Ma‘a Tanuvasa.
Haha, right. Any Hawaii football fan worth his or her salt remembers Ma‘a Tanuvasa, a Rainbow Warriors star defensive end who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. He was a relentless sack master.
Well, there’s a new Ma‘a Tanuvasa in town, so to speak, and he’s playing high school football at Mililani just like his dad did.
This one, who goes by MJ Tanuvasa, is a senior outside linebacker with head coach Rod York‘s top-ranked Trojans. Ma‘a, the dad, is an assistant coach.
MJ had a whale of game on Saturday in a 67-21 win over Kapolei, and according to York, he’s made huge strides in the past year.
“He’s only 6-1, 180 and a lot of room to grow,” York said. “His best years are going to be when he’s a junior or senior in college. He has speed and quickness that you can’t measure. Its in his genes, in his blood, and he’s really turned it on this year. In the offseason, he went to all the camps and clinics. He’s much more committed now and he’s producing. And he’s at about 20 percent of what he’s eventually going to be capable of.”
Against Kapolei, Tanuvasa’s jersey No. 44 was called over and over by the public address announcer. Among his numerous tackles was a key sack of Taulia Tagovailoa in the second quarter, when the Hurricanes, trailing 19-7, had a fourth-and-one at the Mililani 1. The play was even more important in light of things to come. Later on, the Hurricanes cut the lead to 27-21 and could have been ahead had the Trojans not succeeded with that goal-line stand.
Tanuvasa also had a tackle on Kapolei’s L.J. Esperas for a 5-yard loss.
Near the end of the contest, a Tagovailoa short out-pattern pass appeared to be easily be headed into the hands of Esperas on the sidline, but apparently the toss had a little too much touch on it because Tanuvasa — seemingly out of nowhere — sped in and jumped high to knock it down.
Tanuvasa is just one piece of the Mililani defense. Againt Kapolei, defensive end Isaac Liva also had a sack, and Dustin Gapusan and Keli Clemente also had tackles for loss. Defensive end Kaimana Padello, a speed rusher, made sure Tagovailoa — who showed a quick release all night long — didn’t have any extra time. Elias Pritchard (6 feet, 220 pounds) also had a beast of a game at defensive tackle, and looks like the type of player we’ll get to know more of as the season goes along. You pretty much can’t miss him. Jersey No. 42.
Liva (6-5, 200) is another one who you can expect to see making plays for the Mililani defense, which, let’s face it, is underrated when you compare it to the headliners in the so-very-hard-to-stop offense.
“He (Liva) came to us during camp. He was going to Hawaii Baptist and told us that he was transferring in. He had never played football before. He didn’t know the correct stance and he didn’t now how to put on the pads. He’s not scared, and he’s 100 percent coachable. With Silila Malepeai and Thor Salanoa coaching him, two of the best defensive line coaches around, he could become unbelievable. He reminds me of Ikaika Alama-Francis (the Kalaheo basketball star turned UH star defensive end).”
Liva is the brother of Sarah Liva, a 2014 HHSAA Hall of Honor inductee and former basketball and volleyball standout for the Trojans now playing volleyball at Portland State.
On Sunday night, York told Hawaii Prep World of another Mililani defensive stalwart who is actually playing offense. Kahe Kaaiawaawa, who was a major part of last season’s run to the Division I state title as a defensive lineman, is playing offensive tackle this year because that’s where the team needs him.
Simply put, York said, “Kahe is a model Trojan.”