High school football: Cougars come up with great effort despite grief

Published: Friday, Oct. 1 2010 12:01 a.m. MDT

KEARNS — It was the longest day Kearns High sophomore right tackle Joe Kaufusi has experienced in his young life, and he fought through it with some tremendous resiliency.

Kaufusi's grandfather, Sateki Lao, passed away early Thursday morning, and many of his family members stayed awake, waiting for the news. Kaufusi, after grieving in the morning and afternoon, suited up, started, and helped the Cougars dominate Herriman in a 31-8 victory Thursday night.

"We already knew he was going to die soon — we were just waiting for him," Kaufusi said. "We all stayed the night, waiting for him to pass. It was really tough to keep my mind away from it. When I did think of it, I tried to use it (as a positive)."

Kaufusi and fellow offensive line starters David Finau, Gus Lavaka, Lehi Afatasi and Kent Pese helped Kearns rush for 235 yards against the first-year Mustangs. Kaufusi said the effort was dedicated to his grandfather, who had never seen him play football in person.

"With him, he always pushed us to do something to get us big," Kaufusi said. "Football was something he wanted us to do big. And since he couldn't come around, my dad told me this was the first game he watched me, so he told me to play hard. He finally watched me."

Lao would have been proud — and honored — as several Kearns players wrote his name on their arms. Kaufusi's teammates took turns hugging him after the team met in the Cougars' north end zone following the game.

"His grandfather was in the back of our heads the whole night," said Kearns quarterback J.R. Finai. "I talked to him pregame and it was really emotional. I was just sharing my experience with him. I had the exact, same experience my sophomore year when my grandfather died. I knew how he felt. It was an emotional night for him."

And a productive one.

"He pulled it together," Finai said. "We're really proud of what he did for the offensive line. We're proud of him and best wishes to his family."

The Cougars' run game worked from the start against Herriman. Kearns scored touchdowns on its first two drives with Finai rushing for a score and passing for another. Senior Saul Cavillo kept the second scoring drive alive by rushing for 16 yards on a fake rugby punt on a fourth-and-10.

Keanu Solovi led Kearns' rushing attack with 113 yards on just nine carries. He had a 78-yard run in the second quarter that showed he has an extra gear as a runner.

Kearns also forced four turnovers. Afuvai Le'iato had two interceptions, Brady Sawsak had a pick and Andre Juarez recovered a fumble.

"We ran the football the way we wanted to run it," said Kearns coach Bill Cosper. "I thought the kids played hard. We want to try and win out and be on a four-game win streak going into the playoffs."

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com

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