Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prep football: East’s Vaha Vainuku finds a home with the Utes

Football » Lineman was key to Leopards’ prolific running game.

By Kyle Goon

| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jan 03 2012 08:16 pm • Last Updated Jan 04 2012 04:51 pm

It was one of the most anticipated days of Vaha Vainuku’s life. He had made his decision: He wanted to play football for the Utah Utes.

But on the day before the team played in the Sun Bowl, the senior lineman found himself a little gun shy when it came to calling up his coaches about his commitment.

Vainuku chooses Utah

Anchored a line that produced four 1,000-yard rushers in the last two seasons.

A two-time all-state selection on offensive line, but slated to play defense in college.

Chose the Utes among offers to Washington State, Hawaii, Utah State and Weber State.

Called Utah coaches hours after the Sun Bowl victory to inform them of his decision. Join the Discussion
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He dialed coach Jay Hill, the man who had been recruiting him since he was a sophomore, but hung up after a few rings. The second call went to voicemail, but Vainuku didn’t leave a message.

"I was a little nervous because I knew they were getting ready for the bowl game," he says. "I kept hanging up because I didn’t want to bother anyone."

So the fateful day was delayed for a night — New Year’s Eve — but the news was just as good a day later. Vainuku, who anchored East’s power running game on the offensive line, will play his college football just a few blocks away from home. For Vainuku, it’s the realization of a dream he had growing up, imagining himself on the gridiron at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As far as East coaches are concerned, Vainuku will be a dream for the Utes as well.

"I think he’s going to be phenomenal," East football coach Brandon Matich says. "By the time he’s done there, he won’t just have made East High School proud — he’ll make the University of Utah and this city proud."

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 300 pounds, Vainuku’s size makes him a clear college prospect, one the Utes imagine will one day be a solid defensive tackle on their front line. But it’s his speed and fluidity and his ability to move like a much smaller man that sets him apart.

Over the past two years, as East went through a renaissance, Vainuku was one of the building blocks, sometimes playing on both sides of the ball. He could manhandle linemen up front and move to the second level, providing key breaks in the triple option offense.

Running behind him and the rest of the beefy Leopard linemen, Liti Molisi had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, and both quarterbacks eclipsed the mark. The grating ground game brought East to the brink of a state championship before it was undone by a last-minute touchdown pass by Logan.

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