Tanuvasa makes impact for unsung Mililani ‘D’

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.”


  1. FB fan September 1, 2015 12:25 pm

    Sorry but this article is way off! Mililani’s D is overrated! campbell, kapolei, mckinley together put up 56pts… Against Kahuku, same 3 teams only 7 pts…. I understand Mililani’s O making headlines but their D needs some improvements… I mean cmon now, they let a 9th grader put up 300+ passing yrds and 3td’s on them…. Their just outscoring other teams, after watching the last 2 games on tv all i gottah say is this bout the names mentioned, MJ, he good when untouched. K. Clemente kept gettin subbed out by #51 kolone kid cause he kept losing himself out in coverage. Gapusan tkls for loss came on wr screens, ur supposed make that play its in front of you. Liva, 3rd string DE, if you guys paid attn the starter Tyrell #49 got hurt last wk and his backup another Malepeai kid was ejaected from campbell game and had to sit out kapolei game, therfore odd man in is Liva, but if you noticed Vae Malepeai was subbing in and out at the same DE spot. Padella, Kahe and Elias are beast up front i give you that. These kids mentioned can be good, but their not what this article is making them out to be. Their front 7 is way smaller then last yrs, kahe, elias and the mlb #23 olomua is all the beef they got when come time to play Farrington, Punahou and Kahuku’s 300lb plus OL…. if they want to repeat as champs they need to bulk up that front 7, but it dont matter when your offense might be the greatest offense this state has ever seen….. why dont you guys do an article on Kahuku’s D!!!

  2. 88 September 1, 2015 1:01 pm

    @FB; Thats right, the Kapolei QB is a freshman. Crazy to think that a 14 year old did that good. Kahuku has been too good for too long and nobody but Kahuku fans want to read an article about Kahuku Football. Lets give the other teams a turn…..

  3. Trojans8o8 September 3, 2015 9:53 am

    @FBfan Kahuku has had the attention of Hawaii Football for almost a decade spanning from 2000 to 2012 (State titles in 00, 01, 03, 05, 06, 11, 12) Congrats to those squads those years. But give credit where it’s due. Mililani just won their first just last year and is still riding that success horse let this squad of time shine. Also, I believe even though it’s off the books and was a scrimmage game this year Mililani had 44 pts over Kahuku’s 16 points all the way to the 4th quarter until the final was 44 – 30 Mililani. That being said, Mililani’s D had Kahuku’s 300lb plus OL in check for most of the game. There was an article about Kahuku how they so badly they wanted to win that game even though it was a scrimmage, so can’t say “it was just a scrimmage”. Also according to scoringlive.com Mililani was ahead of kahuku on their tally of points for Defense and Special teams but not it’s Kahuku 35 Mililani 30. So Mililani’s D is up there and keeping up with Kahuku’s D. Past two seasons Kahuku’s D has not been able to stop Mililani’s O. So if these 2 teams comes to play for a championship this year that would be a GREAT Story for both progams. Mililani’s O vs. Kahuku’s D ROUND 4! (Counting from the last 3 previous meetings these 2 teams had)

  4. Aitorahi September 3, 2015 1:20 pm

    I too look forward, and expect to see Kahuku and Mililani in the OIA final. Mililani’s offense is the best I have seen for in years. It will be the best O against the best D. But I disagree with Mililani’s Defense being on par with Kahuku’s. Look at the 3 common opponents this year. Campbell, Kapolei, and McKinley. Kahuku’s defense gave up a combined 203 yards and 7 points, with Mililani giving up 720 yards and 56 points.

  5. Trojans8o8 September 3, 2015 3:45 pm

    Hey @Aitorahi yes I agree I look forward to that game also. Would be a good one. But thanks for the stat update and you stand me up correct on both defense. Everything looks good on paper but what really matters is who comes up the victor at the end of 4th quarter no matter who has better stats. Good luck to both teams and season. Go Trojans!

  6. hiro September 4, 2015 5:55 am

    @trojans808. Ur a trojan fan (prolly alumni too)…… understood, I was acrually at the Kahuku-Mililani scrimmage. If stats wher takin that game, Kahuku put up almost 100yrds rushing in the first 2qtrs when the starters wher in. It was a scrimmage, Kahuku’s run game was established early (2nd play frm scrimmage 40+yrd td run) so they used the opportunity to work on the passing game. Thats what you do in a scrimmage, you work on the part of your game that needs work against another team to see how it looks, and to see.where the team is at with certain players. For particular scrimmage im pretty sure its hard to do all that when the scoreboard is on and the Mililani band is playing. Im sorry but i agree, Mililani will repeat this year as OIA/State champs as long as Milton is healthy., But their Defense is Overrated….. Mililani just outscores their opponents. Oh and yes….. Kahuku’s 300lb OL did handle Mililani’s D.

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