For some people, it is easy to describe what it means to be a part of their team and university. To Utah State senior defensive lineman Al Lapuaho, being an Aggie is everything.
While it took him awhile to get to this point, he sees the influence it has had on his life and the impact he wants it to continue to create.
“It means a lot to be an Aggie. I’m going to grow up and be able to tell my kids ‘You know, I was the first generation to get that new field, the new uniforms, the new logo. I wore it first,’” Lapuaho said. “I have seven brothers below me that I want to become Aggies. They’re still young and can do that. It means a lot to me and them.”
Lapuaho said a huge part of his love for Utah State stems from the recent success of the team, and the drive they continue to have together.
“The Aggies are coming up,” Lapuaho said. “It means the world to me to be a part of this.”
Lapuaho played prep football at Granger High School in West Valley City, Utah, where he was a four-year letterman and earned second-team all-state honors as a senior. Upon graduation, he had offers to play at Snow College and Southern Utah University.
He selected Snow but only because he hadn’t ever heard much from Utah State, the school he really wanted to attend.
After his freshman year at Snow, he received an offer from Washington State, which he accepted. However, just couple of weeks before he was supposed to move to Pullman, he decided he didn’t feel right about the decision and returned to Snow.
“It made my coach mad,” Lapuaho said. “But then he asked me what school I wanted to go to, and I said Utah State.”
So, his coach went to work and made it happen.
“I met with the USU coaches at our Scottsdale game that year,” Lapuaho said. “I played a good game and after that, coach Andersen gave me an offer.”
Lapuaho came to Utah State in 2011 as a junior and immediately took his place. Though he was a part of the starting lineup by the first game at Auburn, that wasn’t the case when he showed up for camp.
“I knew I’d be starting at the bottom coming in here, so I wanted to do anything I could to get to the top,” Lapuaho said. “I came in as the second-string end and saw that we needed a nose guard so I told the coaches I was willing to play that. I wanted to be a starter. By the time the Auburn game came, I was starting at nose, and now I’m back at end.”
Defensive line coach Frank Maile said Lapuaho is a necessary part of the team.
“You’ve got to have a guy like Al. He’s a great personality both on and off the field,” Maile said. “We love having him as part of our group of the defensive line.”
While many members of the Utah State football team are very vocal and quick to accept their status as a leader, Lapuaho tends to shy away from the title, while still taking on the responsibility.
“I guess you can say I’m a leader,” Lapuaho said. “I came in last year and played every game. I know the ins and outs. I know how it is in a game. I’ve seen what it takes and I think people see that. Hopefully I can do it this year again.”
Maile said other members of the team definitely see Lapuaho as a leader, but that he doesn’t always see the extent in which he is admired.
“A lot of the guys look up to him as an older guy and a starter. I just wish he would take more advantage of them looking to him,” Maile said. “He has a roundabout way of leading by example.”
Lapuaho said that is just one of many important lessons he has had to learn while being a part of a Division I football program.
“It’s been a learning experience. I’ve grown up a lot and matured a lot. You can’t get away with as much stuff here that you could at junior college,” Lapuaho said. “I’m grateful for it and the opportunity I’ve had to be here. I’m still growing, still learning and I’m happy with what I’ve done.”
Aside from accepting his role as a leader, Lapuaho said he has learned to give his responsibilities both on and off the field complete effort.
“Trust in what you know and give 100 percent, no matter what it is. Follow your responsibilities. You always have to be responsible,” Lapuaho said. “You can’t just go out into the world after football without that.”
This year, Lapuaho has set the goal to be the team leader in sacks. With just one sack on his stat line last season, he has some catching up to do but said he is ready to take on the task.
“Besides that, my real goal is to be consistent. I don’t want to take one snap off and I just want to play with my heart,” Lapuaho said. “I’m going to make smart decisions, decisions that will lie off the field so I can be better on the field. I need to cut out what I don’t need, and I can be better because of that.”
With graduation coming up in May, Lapuaho isn’t sure what is up next for him. What he does know is that he wants football to stay a part of his life, and he’ll do whatever it takes for that to happe, whether it be as a graduate assistant or a coach somewhere.
“I’ve played football since I was nine,” Lapuaho said. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”
After finally reaching his goal to play at Utah State, Lapuaho knows it’s something that will always be with him. It is a legacy he plans to continually build on.
“This is what I do,” Lapuaho said. “An Aggie is what I’m going to be tied to for the rest of my life.”
Megan Allen is in the USU Athletic Media Relations.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company