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Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
Utah State senior linebacker Suli Tamaivena (center, No. 42) prepares to walk to midfield for the pre-game coin toss against Hawai'i on Nov. 3, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

They were done. She was not.

When Sera Tamaivena’s twins – Suli and Siti – decided they were no longer going to play football, the decision did not sit well with her, and she let her boys know about it.


“We started playing rugby,” said Suli. “My mom kept begging us to go back to football, and we just didn’t want to do it. We were having fun with rugby. And then my mom, she’s a really gospel woman, just kept praying and praying, and then asked us one more time. It was like, ‘OK, fine. We’ll give it a shot.’ We gave it a shot, and now we’re happy. We’re blessed to come this far.”

Suli Tamaivena is in his senior season at Utah State, while his twin, Siti, is in his senior season at New Mexico. Both of them play linebacker for their respective teams.

“It’s fun,” Suli said when asked what it’s like having his brother play for a rival school. “We’re always talking to each other, and I always talk smack to him because we’re doing really well right now, so I love talking to him. It’s fun because I at least get to see him one time, and when I get to see him, it’s always fun.”

The journey Tamaivena took to Utah State proved to be a long one, with many twists and turns and the occasional bump in the road. One thing is certain, No. 42 is glad to be an Aggie.

“My career at Utah State has been so much fun,” Tamaivena said. “I never thought I’d have this much fun. It’s just been great. I love the environment, and I love the team. I’m never going to have another opportunity to be here again, so right now I’m just enjoying it. I love everything about it.”

Suli and Siti prepped at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Washington. Knowing their grades were not where they should be, the twins quit playing football and focused on rugby for the next two years.

After all, rugby is in their blood since their father, Levi, was a star in Fiji and played on the national team from 1991-99.

“Our academics weren’t great, and we knew that we weren’t going to make it anyway, so we decided to play rugby,” Suli said. “And then, my mom asked us one more time if we would consider playing football again. One of our close uncles knew one of the coaches at Mt. SAC (Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California).”

From there, the Tamaivena brothers enrolled at Mt. SAC, where they spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Again, not making the grade in the classroom kept Suli from fulfilling a commitment to play at Washington State.

During his time at Mt. SAC, he earned California Community College Athletic Association first-team All-America honors and first-team all-Region III honors and was named the Southern California Football Association National Division Central Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. Tamaivena recorded 81 tackles, including a whopping 20.0 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks.

While his playing days with the Mounties were over, Tamaivena continued to take classes at Mt. SAC and became eligible to transfer. So, when Washington State fell through, Utah State was there.

“Luckily, Utah State came in, and coach Wells is a great coach,” Tamaivena said. “The main thing about him is loyalty, so if you’re loyal to him, he’s going to be loyal to you, and that was exactly what happened. He stuck with me until the summer, and I was grateful for him.”

Tamaivena credits his wife, Lusiana, for helping him to get his academics in order.

“Our weakness was academics,” Tamaivena said. “We never took it seriously. We went to Mt. SAC and had a little fun with college and got away with academics, but luckily for me, I met my wife there and she kind of just mentored me and helped me out with my schoolwork. I am grateful she settled me down, and that’s how I got through.”

Tamaivena arrived at USU in the summer of 2017 and quickly made his presence felt for the Aggies. In Utah State’s season opener at Wisconsin, he recorded seven tackles and returned a fumble 13 yards.

That was just a sign of things to come during the 2017 campaign for Tamaivena and the Aggies. He earned third-team all-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele’s Magazine after starting all 13 games and leading the team with 111 tackles, including a team-best 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, which tied for second on the team.

Additionally, Tamaivena led the team with four quarterback hurries and tied for team lead with two fumble recoveries.

“He’s extremely explosive, and from a blitzing standpoint, he does a nice job,” said USU inside linebackers coach Stacy Collins. “He also runs so well. He makes some back-side plays, just pure-effort plays, that are very impressive. His personality is great, and he’s a great guy to have in the room. His playmaking ability is probably what I’ll miss the most. He’s got a great personality, and he brings a great work ethic to it.”

Tamaivena missed the first three games of his senior season due to an injury but returned against Air Force on Sept. 22 and racked up a season-high 12 tackles. On the year, he has recorded 38 tackles, including 5.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks, to go along with two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.

“It’s great to have Suli back,” Collins said. “He runs better than people probably give him credit for, and he’s just a playmaker when he’s on the field.”

Tamaivena, who is majoring in sociology, is on track to graduate this December. The 25 year old plans on giving the NFL a shot, but once his football career is officially over, he wants to go into law enforcement.

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” Tamaivena said. “This past summer, I got to do an internship with the Logan Police Department, which was a great opportunity. I’ve got a Plan B set up with them if the NFL doesn’t pan out. Actually, I don’t call it Plan B. It’s a win-win either way, so I’m excited for whatever happens.”

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Tamaivena and his wife are the proud parents of two children, a 2-year-old son named Levi and a daughter named Kelera, who is not quite 1 yet.

“It’s hard,” said Tamaivena, when asked how he balances family life, schooling and football. “You want to be there for the kids and your wife, but then you’ve got school, you’ve got homework and you’ve got football, so it’s hard. But, you don’t do it for that long, so you think about the things that you achieve at the end. You’re just like, ‘OK, you’ve just got to do this for now to get what you want later on.’ It’s hard, but in the end, it’ll be worth it.”