Though just 17 years old, future BYU defensive tackle Travis Tuiloma is already an imposing physical specimen on the football field. He may also be the biggest hidden gem in what is considered the best recruiting classes in many years at BYU.
According to his high school coach Derick Hammes, the 6′3″, 300-pound Tuiloma from Washburn Rural High School in in Topeka, Kansas, is coming to BYU with the ability to help the Cougars immediately if need be.
“He’s as strong a player as we’ve ever had here,” says Hammes, who’s program competes in the state’s 6-A classification, the highest in Kansas. “He’s strong right now, and ready to help now.”
Tuiloma says that a high level of personal motivation has been the key to developing his power and strength. “I’m working out all the time,” says Travis. “The workouts that Coach Hammes gives me includes a lot of lifting and a lot of running and everything is timed. I guess it’s just comes from working out throughout the years.” Travis also claims that his experience as a wrestler has helped his football, qualifying for the state wrestling tournament in each of the last two years.
Somewhat of a mystery to BYU fans when he signed his letter of intent with the Cougars in February, Travis was no stranger to opposing players and coaches in the Sunflower State.
“Everybody on our schedule knew who he was”, says Hammes of the First Team All-City, All-League and All-State star. “People flat out ran away from him. That says a lot about what kind of player he is. He’s always been an dominate defensive lineman and always been disruptive force against opposing offenses.”
Despite Tuiloma’s prowess on the field, he was unknown to BYU coaches until he took matters into his own hands. “I put my film together and sent it in to them,” Travis says. In short order Cougar Defensive Line Coach Steve Kaufusi was on a flight to Topeka. Kaufusi quickly offered Tuiloma a scholarship to play football at BYU and Travis immediately accepted, even though he had never stepped foot on the Provo campus.
“I was really excited”, Tuiloma explained. “When they offered me I knew right then that BYU was the place for me. I told my parents about it and they were very excited too. They were really hoping that I would end up at BYU. Both of my parents went to BYU for a couple of semesters.”
After committing to BYU, several Big 12 programs took their shots at Travis including Kansas State where Tuiloma’s cousin Tomasi Mariner plays football for the home-state Wildcats. They were thoroughly unsuccessful in budging him. “I’ve never seen a kid more happy to go to a college,” says Coach Hammes. “He’s in love with BYU and just excited to play for them. BYU was on him early and he never wavered.”
Tuiloma grew up as a child in Samoa but moved to Kansas to live with his uncle when Travis was in the eighth grade. Following his arrival he was somewhat quiet and reserved while adjusting to a new culture in the Midwest. “It really wasn’t that bad,” Travis says of his adjustment. “The biggest change was getting used to the cold!”
“I think it took three years before I heard him say anything,” Hammes joked. “But he has really come out of his shell. He is extremely popular in school, he fulfills all his obligations, he attends his church meetings every morning before school. He’s very well-rounded.”
Travis will arrive in Provo in June to start school in the summer. He plans eventually to pursue a career in the medical field. On the playing field he hopes to be the next in a line of true freshman to make an impact at nose tackle for BYU, following in the tradition of Romney Fuga, Eathyn Manumaleuna and Russell Tialavea. “I think bull rush is my main thing that I am best at, that and clogging up holes on the line.”
When he does step on the field in LaVell Edwards Stadium he’ll have plenty of support. “A lot of my dad’s family lives in Provo, I haven’t met them yet, but I know that they are excited to watch me play.”
So are thousands of other Cougar fans.