By Nick Barene, Sports Writer
The stadium lights struggled to penetrate the thick fog that covers the practice field. The air was frigid. I reached out and shook a massive gloved hand.
“Hey, man, nice to meet you,” senior Mychael “Tui” Tuiasosopo said, grinning.
The fourth-year defensive lineman may seem like an imposing figure — he is roughly 6 feet tall and weighs a sturdy 295 lbs — but I am struck first by his friendly demeanor rather than his stature.
“He’s a good friend to everyone. He’s always there to help others,” sophomore Cody Tupen, a defense tackle, said.
Tupen is among those that have been mentored by Tuiasosopo as a member of the defensive line core.
“All my skills are better. He’s taught me all the little things,” Tupen said. “He backs up what our coaches talk about — being a good football player and an even better person.”
David LaSalata coaches the defensive line, and spoke to Tuiasosopo’s cheerfulnesss.
“He’s one of those guys that’s going to be a lifelong friend of the people that he’s met here,” LaSalata said. “He cares a lot about the team. That’s what makes him the great football player that he is.”
Tuiasosopo is no stranger to greatness. He was selected as a second-team All-American, a first-team All-Regional player, and a first-team All-Northwest Conference player in 2012. During that successful season, he tallied 46 tackles with 10 for loss, as well as an interception and two forced fumbles.
In his second year, as both a starter and a captain, Tuiasosopo helped the 17th ranked Lutes to a 6-1 overall record thus far in the season.
The big man isn’t worried about his stats, though.
“In my freshman and sophomore years I had some personal goals, for tackles and sacks, but not anymore,” Tuiasosopo said. “But defense is about doing your job and helping others. Making tackles and sacks helps the team, and helping the team is my goal”.
Tuiasosopo’s selfless nature is exemplary of the style of football that was preached by legendary PLU football coach Frosty Westering.
“I remember the first time he [Westering] talked to us,” Tuiasosopo said. “He spoke about bringing the best out of each other and out of ourselves. He is the foundation of this program.”
The fact that Tuiasosopo cares more about the team than he does his own stats is exactly the kind of mindset Frosty Westering coached.
“We’re chasing perfection each week,” Tuiasosopo said. “We don’t think about playing the opponent. We play against our best selves. We want to be the best team we can be every week”.
Tuiasosopo’s name carries a little extra weight. Anyone who is a sports fan in the state of Washington will recognize the Tuiasosopo family name. His uncle, Manu Tuiasosopo, played football at UCLA and in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. Manu Tuiasosopo started at nose tackle and won Super Bowl XIX with the 49ers.
Mychael Tuiasosopo’s cousin, Marcus Tuiasosopo, played at the University of Washington and in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. His brother, Trenton Tuiasosopo, also played football at the UW. Matt Tuiasosopo, one of Mychael Tuiasosopo’s cousins, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and now plays for the Detroit Tigers in MLB. Another cousin, Leslie Tuiasosopo, played volleyball at the UW and for the U.S. Olympic team.
However, Mychael Tuiasosopo doesn’t feel any pressure to live up to his family name.
“Those guys performed at the highest level and gave their best. The only pressure I feel is to give my best,” Tuiasosopo said.
Giving his best is what has earned Tuiasosopo the respect of his friends, teammates and coaches. Whether on the football field, or just around campus, he’ll be there with a smile and a helping hand.