High school football: East players overcome adversity to find success, brotherly love
Both the boys and their coaches understand the role football plays in the lives of these young men. In fact, it was Tolutau’s grades dropping at the end of football season that prompted Matich to have that pivotal chat.
Now Matich leans on them to lead other boys who struggle with the same complex issues that are not easily addressed by school officials.
“Ula really decided to change on his own,” said Matich. “That’s why he’s a Wisconsin-type kid. He has natural leadership qualities in him. I’ve leaned on him heavily; I trust him; I respect him. It says a lot about Ula that he made the changes, because a lot of these kids don’t make it out. They don’t feel like they can. The pull of the neighborhood is stronger than academics or sports. We battle it all the time with a lot of our kids.”
Tolutau just has to think of his parents and those initials on his leg to find the will to continue on the productive path he’s chosen. Laupata, who hasn’t committed to a college yet, only has to remember why he wears number 14 every week.
“I wear it to represent my baby sister,” he said of Jennifer. “She was 14 months old, exactly.”
Both of them said they don’t dwell on the darkness they’ve endured, choosing instead to use it to inspire and strengthen themselves and their teammates.
“Every day you should cherish the moments you have,” said Laupata. Adds Tolutau, “When good things come to you, you’ve got to take advantage of it. I don’t think of the past that much. If I do, I only try to rebuild from it.”
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