As a sophomore, Tyrese Tafai was a rising star on the gridiron.
The high-energy linebacker seemed to be everywhere making plays for the Campbell Sabers. In the trenches, sideline to sideline, chasing foes in the backfield, down the field. Fundamentally, he was a new breed of tackler, trained to use his shoulders, to get low and use leverage.
No one knew he would become sidelined for much of the next two seasons with a shoulder injury. Tafai finally went in for surgery last year to repair damage to his right labrum that had begun long before his first serious injury in 2017. He hasn’t played in a full-contact game since September and his return is one of many reasons the Sabers checked in at No. 3 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Preseason Top 10. A full team preview was done in today’s newspaper, which you can read by clicking here.
“After that surgery, I’ve just been keeping low, just trying to get my shoulder right. Not really talking to many people. I was just going to therapy and working my shoulder out,” Tafai said. “I’m feeling good, almost 100 percent.”
It’s not uncommon for linebackers to have shoulder injuries. They often play through pain from a young age. Tafai just accepted it as a normal situation.
“The funny thing is, I never knew my shoulder was that bad. I thought it was just sore, but I checked up and they said I needed shoulder (surgery),” he said. “I’ve never had a concussion in high school. We just follow through on what we learn in practice.”
Now a senior, Tafai is listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. Monday through Friday, Tafai is working out with his therapist.
“It’s light weight, but many reps, working out all the little muscles around the shoulder. I’ve just got to be at the right position at the right time, not try to do too much,” he said.
This fall, with a deep, talented senior class, Tafai doesn’t want to miss a moment. The Sabers are in no rush to have him back in a full-time role. Another skilled defender, Peter Manuma, will move from the secondary to linebacker as Tafai eases back into action.
“We have young D-linemen coming up, but I see them working and we’re just going to work as a team to help each other out. Hopefully, things fall the way we want them to,” Tafai said. “Our linebackers are real good. They’re learning. Peter’s an all-around player, so he knows what he’s doing. He’s a hybrid-type guy and holds his ground. I feel he can play linebacker with me inside. And we have some ballhawks on defense.”
Tafai is predicting a big season for nose tackle Ivan Soriano, a junior.
“He’s mean. He’s got some techniques. He uses his hands. He’s not the biggest, but he’ll put pressure on you,” he said.
If he didn’t have so much talent and drive, Tafai might be mistaken for a young coach. He has a maturity that isn’t common for high schoolers.
“It’s what everybody wants, a good game every week. In the Open Division, there’s no time to sleep, so everybody’s getting ready to work. Once we get done with week one, we move on to week two. We believe in each other. We believe this is the year for everybody,” Tafai said.
The energy of new defensive coordinator Blaze Soares, the former Castle and Hawaii standout linebacker, is infectious. Soares still can roam sideline to sideline during practice.
“He’s a real cool guy. He really teaches us whatever we need to know, not just our own job,” Tafai said. “He’s teaching us to be versatile. He still looks young, and he practices with us. He’s real close with my therapist (Pat Ariki) and he checks up on my therapy. He tells me to keep going, don’t rush into it. He really wants to to me use me this year and not be out like last year.”