Ever since he came to Utah State out of New Zealand as a rugby player, big things have been expected of fullback Timo Tagaloa. He's showed flashes of brilliance throughout his four years in Logan but injuries, attitude problems and just plain bad luck have kept Tagaloa from realizing his potential.
Finally, with his career winding to a close, Tagaloa is putting that potential on display.In last Saturday's game with Pacific, the 5-11, 221-pound fullback had perhaps his finest game as an Aggie when he seemed to be the center of the USU offense for a day. He accounted for more than 100 yards as he carried the ball 11 times and caught 10 passes from Brent Snyder.
"It was an opportunity for me to do something to help the team, and that's what I did," said Tagaloa in his distinctive British accent. "I was just happy to do my job."
Since being recruited by former USU Coach Chris Pella out of Auckland in 1984, Tagaloa has had a roller-coaster career. He's always seemed to have an outstanding spring camp and then always had something go wrong in the fall.
"Every spring he's one of the top 15 or 20 backs in the whole country," says Utah State Coach Shelton. "But in the fall it's been a different story.
When asked why his autumns are never as good as his springs, Tagaloa shrugs and says, "I don't know; I really couldn't tell you."
He does say the opposite seasons of the United States and New Zealand has nothing to do with it.
As a freshman, Tagaloa started five games, rushed for nearly 400 yards and capped off the year with a 49-yard touchdown gallop against New Mexico State in the season finale.
The next year he had a great spring but followed with a poor fall in which he gained just 172 yards and started only three games. Tagaloa admits his attitude was "not good" that year and he wasn't working as hard as he should have. Discouraged, he nearly didn't come back to Logan after going back to New Zealand during the summer.
But he did, and after another fine spring, he started the first game against Nebraska and made the team's only touchdown on a 50-yard pass reception. But things went downhill from there as he lost his starting job and then midway through the year suffered a season-ending knee injury against Pacific - which happened on his birthday.
With this being his last season, Tagaloa was out to make the best of it. During the summer he changed his modus operandi and instead of going back home, he spent several weeks at a Christian camp in Colorado with other athletes.
"That helped me a lot," says Tagaloa. "I listened to speakers talk about Biblical principles and also had a chance to work out."
He came into the season in top shape and with his best attitude ever. But on his very first carry of the year against Nebraska, he ran for seven yards, got hit and suffered a knee sprain. He went home with a big knee wrap and was out of action for nearly three weeks. It was just another in a long line of hard-luck happenings for Tagaloa.
"He's had a strange history," said Shelton. "He's a great kid, but a hard-luck kid. I've always said is he could play a full football season, he could be one of the top backs in the country."
Before coming to Utah State, Tagaloa had played just one year of organized American football. Rugby was his sport and he represented his country on a world rugby tour in 1982 and 1983. He dispels the popular notion that rugby is tougher than football.
"Football is a whole lot tougher," he says. "You've got to learn a playbook, you've got to learn the defenses, you have to read the blocks . . . And practices are a lot more intense. People see rugby and think `Oh, gosh, they don't have any pads and they're running in different directions,' but they just don't understand."
Tagaloa is on track to graduate next spring and he plans to return to New Zealand and become a physical education teacher - in addition to switching back to rugby again. He said he wouldn't mind a pro football tryout, but says, "Really, I just want to get my degree and get back to New Zealand."
Before all that happens, Tagaloa would like to have one, just one good fall in Logan to remember.