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Utah football: Polynesian connection continues to thrive for Utes

Published: Saturday, June 16 2012 9:12 p.m. MDT

Pouha praised the program for maintaining an inviting atmosphere.

"It's a real comfortable place and something that's very attractive that I think a lot of Polynesians like to be a part of when they feel that spirit there," he said.

Kauha'aha'a, who was raised in a small village in Hawaii and was recruited to Utah by McBride, said a lot of the atmosphere up on the hill fits into how Polynesian players were brought up. They've been taught to work hard, make the most of things, show respect for leaders and be obedient.

"When you add us onto a team, we bring a real family atmosphere to a group," Kauha'aha'a said. "For some reason, our kids do a nice job drawing everybody in. But that's just how we're raised."

The family atmosphere is something players feel upon visiting the program, he continued. It's a lot like home.

"That was one of the factors in my decision," said Woods Cross High senior-to-be Felipo Mokofisi, who plans to sign with the Utes in February. "I knew right away that was my school."

Mokofisi, one of four Polynesian players to give the Utes an early recruiting commitment, is following in the footsteps of his father of the same name — a star player for the Utes in the '80s.

"It's just a good environment over there at the U.," the younger Mokofisi said while expressing appreciation for the ethnic diversity in the program. "I like that about the U. They are the most diverse school in the nation. I found that really interesting."

Utah's situation has also drawn intrigue from players from other programs. In speaking with them, Pouha has learned that they admire how well connected guys are at the University of Utah. From past greats like Luther Elliss to current standouts like Star Lotulelei, there's a bond.

"I think it's the fraternity and it's the brotherhood that kind of keeps us all together," said Pouha, who works out at his alma mater in the offseason and is joined by friends like "adopted Ute" Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. "We've got guys coming from all over."

The same can be said of Utah's recruiting efforts. Although the primary focus is in-state, as well as California and Texas, players from places like Hawaii and Las Vegas are also in the mix.

"Not only is it diverse with ethnicity, but I think geographically we have a lot of mixture with guys from California, guys from Utah, guys from Hawaii," Pouha said. "Those are three very diverse geographical places and you bring them all together."

The search for recruits has been refined in recent years, especially with Polynesian players. Whittingham noted that the majority of them used to come from Hawaii.

"We still have connections there, but the majority of the Polynesian athletes are coming from in-state, Texas and California," he said. "So we no longer have to leave the mainland to get the Polynesian athletes in our program."

A growing population in Utah, enhanced by the LDS Church influence and the rising popularity of the annual All Poly Camp in Bountiful, has made such searches easier.

And there's more to it.

Whittingham said the Utes have maintained a good standing in the tight-knit community.

"We've had so many Polynesian athletes that have had success that we've developed a very good reputation among their culture as a place that is a good option for their sons to play football," he explained. "It's been a big key to our success."

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

Utah football: Polynesians in the program

Players

Siaosi Aiono (OL); Kaeo Alo (FB); Isaac Asiata (OL); Afa Bridenstine (LB); Nick Brown (LB); Nate Fakahafua (DE); Seni Fauonuku (DT); VJ Fehoko (LB); LT Filiaga (LB); Moses Folauhola (DL); Kala Friel (OL); Latu Heimuli (OL); Lio Lafaele (OL); Harvey Langi (RB); Ofa Latu (LB); Niasi Leota (DT); Star Lotulelei (DT); Hiva Lutui (OL); Johnny Mahe (FB); Tevita Malafu (DL); Max Moala (FB); Kendrick Moeai (TE); Moana Ofahengaue (DL); Thretton Palamo (DE); Tenny Palepoi (DT); Joape Pela (DT); Nua Poteki (OT); Jeremiah Poutasi (OT); Marc Pouvave (OL); David Rolf (TE); Junior Salt (DT); Tevita Stevens (OL); Sefa Tanoai (TE/DE); Pasoni Tasini (DE) Percy Taumoelau (OL); Jeremiah Tofaeono (OL); Westlee Tonga (TE); LT Tuipulotu (DT); Derek Tuimauga (OL); Vaha Vainuku (DT)

Coaches

Kalani Fifita Sitake (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/linebackers); Chad Kauha'aha'a (defensive line); Ilaisa Tuiaki (fullbacks/tight ends); Doug Elisaia (director of strength and conditioning).

2013 recruiting commitments

Siale Fakailoatonga (TE/Cottonwood HS); Lo Falemaka (OT/Cottonwood HS); Filipo Mokofisi (LB/Woods Cross HS); Leroy Tanoai (OT/Notre Dame HS, Calif.).

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