The Mount Tahoma High School football team hasn’t had much success in the recent past. Last season, the T-Birds went winless, losing all 10 of their games. This year, it’s been another rough start, going 0-2 in a 48-0 loss to Davis in the season opener and a 50-7 loss last week to North Creek.
But senior lineman Taliese Fuaga has stuck through it, spending all four years of his high school career at Mount Tahoma.
“All my siblings went here,” Fuaga said. “It’s like a home for me. The losing, it’s difficult to overcome. I come from a school that doesn’t win a lot, but I’m trying to change that.”
Fuaga is one of the area’s more interesting recruits. Considered a three-star offensive tackle by 247sports.com, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman has scholarship offers from USC, Oregon, Oregon State, Hawaii and Nevada. It just so happens he plays for a program that is in a tough place.
It would be hard to blame Fuaga for considering transferring to a contender, but he hasn’t wavered. When he’s with friends from other schools, he’ll get occasional recruiting pitches.
“Some of them want me to go to other schools,” Fuaga said. “They might say, ‘Come here, we can go to state.’ ”
In an era of constant high school transferring and athletes getting more creative with generating exposure for themselves, Fuaga is an anomaly.
“It says everything,” said second-year coach Leon Hatch, who also coached the T-Birds in the early-to-mid 2000s. “You don’t have a lot of loyalty like that in high school. Kids think, ‘I have to be here to get a scholarship.’ The one thing that hasn’t changed, is there’s a lot of (college coaches) whose paycheck depends on going to losing schools, or winning schools, or mediocre schools and finding kids.”
The fact that Fuaga has stayed? That’s something Hatch admires.
“He didn’t waver at all — that means a lot,” Hatch said. “Those are the intangibles that make guys special … There is a culture right now where parents and kids want to look out for themselves. But, when you go to college and play ball, at some point, you have to stand and fight. And if you don’t have that gene in you, there’s going to come a time when it catches up to you. It’s not going to disappear.”
And on the football field, Fuaga is a force, possessing a rare combination of size and strength and makes him a matchup issue for opponents, even when Mount Tahoma is losing games.
When Hatch took over the job at Mount Tahoma, he watched film of the previous season and challenged Fuaga.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to be real, this is what I see,’ ” Hatch said.
He challenged him to move his feet more, to use his hands more — to be more active.
“Everyone knows you’re strong, but when you’re blocking or playing defense, you have to move your feet,” Hatch said.
It’s something Fuaga has improved this season — having a better motor on both sides of the ball.
“He hasn’t even played his best football yet,” Hatch said. “The thing that’s so unique with him is that he is flexible. He’s strong in the weight room. He has quickness. He has all those things necessary for him to be a great player … He’s a good kid. I’m most impressed with the leadership role has taken on.”
The wins will likely be hard to come by again this season for the T-Birds. The chances of a playoff run are slim. But, on Friday nights, fans will still see Fuaga out there, representing the only high school program he has ever known.
“We’re just trying to win some games,” he said. “Some of the kids on our team, it’s their first year playing football. But, it’s all good. I still like Mount Tahoma. It’s my school.”