Texas A&M redshirt freshman defensive end Polo Manukainiu was killed in a car accident on Tuesday, school officials confirmed.
Texas A&M redshirt freshman defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu (pronounced mah-NEW-ky-a-new) was killed in a one-vehicle rollover accident on U.S. Highway 550 in Sandoval County in New Mexico on Monday, July 29 at 6:52 p.m. mountain time.
According to the report from the New Mexico State Police, he was a passenger in a 2002 Toyota Sequoia traveling south on U.S. 550 and the vehicle drifted off of the roadway and the driver over corrected and the vehicle rolled several times. Manukainiu and another passenger, Andrew Uhatafe, were ejected from the vehicle and deceased at the scene. Gaius Vaenuku, an incoming member of the Utah football team, was transported from the scene of the accident but was pronounced deceased in the ambulance. The driver and a fifth passenger were transported to San Juan Regional Hospital after sustaining minor injuries. Alcohol was not involved and it appears the driver was the only one wearing a seat belt.
'We lost a terrific young man,' Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin said. 'Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members.'
UPDATE: Saturday, Aug. 10, at 6:03 p.m. ET
The Associated Press (via CSNHouston.com) reports details on Manukainiu's funeral:
Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin and about 75 of his players and staff were among the more than 1,000 people who attended the funeral for defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, 19, and his brother, 13-year old Andrew "Lolo" Uhatafe.
---End of update---
Bryan Fischer, senior correspondent for Pac-12 Networks, reports that Utah confirms the passing of Gaius Vaenuku:
.@Utah_Football confirms Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku passed away in a car accident. Tragic. RIP. OT Salesi Uhatafe survived.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 30, 2013
Forth Worth Star-Telegram's Jimmy Burch originally reported the tragic news:
Texas A&M defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman from Euless Trinity, died in a car accident during a trip home from Utah, school officials confirmed this morning.
A&M officials were still gathering details about the incident, a school spokesman said, and are expected to release more information later today.
Manukainiu, 19, was part of the Aggies’ 2012 signing class and redshirted last season. A report this morning by Foxdfw.com said Manukainiu was driving back from Utah when the wreck occurred north of Albuquerque, N.M. Two other teenagers died in the rollover accident, according to the Foxdfw.com report.
Yahoo! Sports' Christopher Wilson followed with more information:
... high school teammates and cousins Polo Manukainiu and Gaius Vaenuku were killed in a car accident Monday night in New Mexico. Manukainiu was a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M, while Vaenuku was set to begin his career playing for Utah this fall.
A younger cousin, age 13, was also killed in the crash. Two other passengers were also reportedly injured in the crash, but their names and conditions are currently unknown... Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fatal crash.
A chilling tweet from Manukainiu on Monday afternoon may offer a glimpse into what happened as details continue to arise. According to Manukainiu, he was preparing for a 22-hour drive to Texas despite having gotten no sleep.
Previous tweets issued by Manukainiu suggest that he was in Utah, and was presumably either heading back to College Station, Texas, or to his hometown of Euless, Texas, when tragedy struck.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel tweeted about the tragedy Tuesday morning:
Heart hurts waking up to news about Polo.. I think I speak for everyone on our team when I say we love you brother you will be missed— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) July 30, 2013
Several other Twitter users responded to Manukainiu's tweet about driving 22 hours without resting, and many of them advised him to pull over and sleep to avoid putting himself in danger. It is unclear if Manukainiu's fatigue had anything to do with what happened, but it has to be considered a possibility at this point.
Manukainiu was expected to contribute to the Aggies' defense during the upcoming season as a rotational defensive lineman. According to AggiesAthletics.com, Manukainiu was rated as a 4-star prospect by ESPN and 247Sports.com. Also, ESPNU ranked him as the No. 33 defensive end in the nation, so his future in College Station certainly seemed bright.
Manukainiu was a standout at Euless Trinity High School, as he was a two-time All-District 6-5A defensive end and helped lead his team to an undefeated regular season as a senior.
At 6'5" and 275 pounds, the 19-year-old recreation, parks and tourism sciences major had ideal size and athletic ability to excel in the SEC. With Texas A&M coming off an 11-win season, Manukainiu could have potentially been part of something very special.
Manukainiu's teammates must now get past what promises to be an extremely traumatic experience. There is little doubt that football is the last thing that they are thinking about right now, but they will eventually have to step onto the field and perform.
Getting over the loss of Manukainiu won't be easy, but his spirit will almost certainly live on in the hearts of his teammates. Look for Manukainiu to serve as inspiration for the Aggies all season long as they aspire to reach the BCS National Championship Game in his honor.
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