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Athlete shines in football, golf

At nearly 6 feet 4 inches, 280 pounds, Rodrick Tuisavalalo seems more suited to hitting other big kids on a football field than a little white ball.

Yet until this school year, the Rancho junior was known for his prowess on the golf course.

"When I tell people I play golf, they’re actually kind of surprised," Tuisavalalo said. "They’re like, ‘I thought you were a big football star.’ "

Most golfers aren’t built the way Tuisavalalo is. Stand an average golfer next to an average lineman and most people will be able to determine which is which.

The near 100-pound difference is a big clue.

Except in the case of Tuisavalalo, who temporarily exchanged his driver and putter for a helmet and shoulder pads in September when he played in a high school football game for the first time.

As a result, colleges are calling a player with only seven football games under his belt, yet one who eventually could shine on Saturday and maybe even Sunday afternoons — either playing football or golf.

"I never thought I’d be in the position I’m in right now," said Tuisavalalo, who will carry an average of approximately 80 strokes per 18 holes into Monday’s Sunrise Regional at Anthem Country Club. "I’ve played golf since I was in seventh grade, but that first game gave me a big hint that football was another thing for me to consider."

Tuisavalalo didn’t play until the Rams’ fourth game of the football season, yet still earned first-team All-Northeast Division honors as an offensive lineman and second-team honors as a defensive lineman.

"He’s a very gifted athlete," said Gary Maki, Rancho’s football coach last season. "You could see the natural ability, even in (physical education) class. He’s very agile for his size.

"With his athletic ability, he could probably start on our basketball team."

Still, Tuisavalalo couldn’t play football until he convinced his father, Tapeni, that he could maintain his "A" average in school.

"It was something I always wanted to do, but it was very tough convincing him," the younger Tuisavalalo said. "He was worried about my grades and about injuries."

There wasn’t much need to worry.

"If you really have heart for the game, you can do anything you want to do," Tuisavalalo said.

That includes opening the eyes of colleges such as Brigham Young and those in the Ivy League, which are expressing interest in Tuisavalalo as a football player.

"He can play at the Division I level," Maki said.

If not in football, possibly in golf.

Tuisavalalo missed qualifying for the state meet in golf by four strokes last year.

"He hits it a long way," Rancho golf coach Don Yanzer said.

Yanzer told a story of Tuisavalalo’s freshman year, when the youngster was playing with his father on a 550-yard, par-5 hole.

"He told me, ‘I was 230 yards out (from the pin), and I hit my 4-iron over the green,’ " Yanzer said. "That’s just a different game. That’s up there with Tiger Woods.

"Absolutely he could go play in college. He could go in both sports."

The success he has experienced in golf has helped him on the football field.

"Golf is such a mental game, and you have to be on track mentally," Tuisavalalo said. "That’s one of the things I took to football. You have to be mentally prepared in practices and in games."

Tuisavalalo’s biggest focus, though, isn’t on golf or football. It’s on his class work.

"He’s just a great kid. He’s very mature for his age," Yanzer said. "He probably doesn’t spend the time he should on golf because he’s focused on academics. That’s the big thing in his life."

It eventually will lead to an interesting decision — where to go to college and which sport to play.

"I’d love to play college ball, whether it be golf or football," said Tuisavalalo, who hopes to study medicine.

"I’d love to go to Stanford. That’s been my goal since I was young. Not only do they have a good athletic program, but they also have a really good academic program."

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