Al Lapuaho always wanted to play in the Pac-12.
Whether it was at Granger High or at Snow College, it was all he dreamed about. So when Washington State offered the defensive tackle a scholarship, he pounced on it like it was a running back.
Only it didn’t work out. The campus was cool. The competition was top-notch. The coaching staff and the players were accommodating and friendly. But the sense of family wasn’t there when Lapuaho visited. He went back to Snow, hesitant about Washington State. He de-committed. Then he called coach Gary Andersen and pledged to USU.
“I wasn’t happy,” Lapuaho said. “The Polynesian culture means a lot to me. And that’s what eventually swayed me to Utah State.”
Yes, the Polynesian culture, which puts a premium on loyalty and a sense of family. When Andersen took over the head coaching job at Utah State three years ago, he promised to remake a roster that was devoid not only of Polynesians, but of homegrown recruits in general.
Three years later, the Aggies boast 22 players of Polynesian descent on their roster. A bunch of them are in-state recruits. And a good number of them are poised to make an impact.
Philip Gapelu, D.J. Tialavea and Kyle Whimpey will all play a lot offensively. Lapuaho and Bojay Filimoeatu are starters on the defensive line. Evan Huahulu, a transfer from SMU, will play a lot as a nose tackle. Nate Needham has carved out a role as a long snapper.
For Andersen, there may not be a better sight. He considers USU’s Polynesian players one of the foundations of his program. He has worked diligently to improve their numbers, and now he stands to reap the benefits.