Neither of the three-star athletes felt a team bond in last year's squad that went 4-6 and missed the playoffs. So they set out to change that.
Listen to the banter between Trey Davis and Alphonzo Tuputala and you might think their loyalties are elsewhere.
The football players are regarded by multiple scouting sites as among the top-10 players in the state for the Class of 2019. Davis, a three-star receiver/cornerback, is committed to USC. Tuputala, a three-star linebacker, is committed to play for Washington.
If the Federal Way duo aren’t throwing Victory and Dubs hand signals at each other in the school hallways, they’re lining up across each other at practice, jawing about how that will be the view on Saturdays in college.
But talk to the senior captains and everything is Eagles blue and white. Davis and Tuputala actually spent more time last summer talking about ways they can unite a roster dotted with young talent in an effort to make the season extend to December.
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“Growing up in our years of high school, upperclassmen would say we’re together and all of that, but we didn’t really feel that,” Tuputala said. “We didn’t feel the bond. We don’t want our teammates to feel that way. It’s not unity if nobody is feeling equal with each other. We try to come across as leaders but teammates and friends first.”
How distant the Federal Way team was is reflected in Davis and Tuputala’s path to friendship. Their connection was made through 7-on-7 play last summer, not by teaming up as Eagles the past three seasons. Training and traveling together revealed Tuputala’s snoring and Davis’ work ethic and a shared fire to win.
They try to spend time with the underclassmen to find out their quirks, too, in addition to developing a rhythm within coach John Meagher’s schemes. Tuputala gave the senior class rubber bracelets to further the message of “Brotherhood” and “Unity.”
It appears Davis and Tuputala’s efforts have brought a confidence out of the first-year starters.
In Federal Way’s season opener against Thomas Jefferson, sophomore Corey Quinn had a 29-yard touchdown catch and a 7-yard run for a score. Sophomore teammate Ronald Davis III had a 37-yard touchdown reception while sophomore rusher Damoni Nelson was solid carrying the ball.
The Eagles defeated the Raiders 38-21, the one setback being Davis suffering a mild injury to his right knee. Federal Way (1-1) hosts Todd Beamer (2-0) on Friday.
“Coming off last year, I wanted to change my whole mindset,” said Davis of the Eagles’ 4-6 season. “Of all my years here, we haven’t been a team. When we’re out there, we look like one, but I didn’t feel as if we were together as a whole. I feel this will help us going forward — being together as a team.”
Tuputala, who’s 6 foot 2 and 235 pounds, has led the Eagles in tackles the past two seasons. He was named to the NPSL Olympic Division’s first team last year. Davis, a cobra-like striker on defense, is also a go-to player offensively. He can extend his 5-11, 190-pound frame for impressive catches like the 56-yard touchdown grab against Thomas Jefferson.
The duo picked up interest from Pac-12 schools last summer and plan to make their commitments official after the season. Tuputala is still awed when thinking about playing for UW. He was a self-described big kid whose only interests were eating fast food and watching television until put in football at age 11.
Davis started playing football at age 7 because it was a dream of his father’s, who died when Trey was 5. He choose USC to continue his career because of the coaching staff, academics and sunshine.
“It’s crazy that this is really happening,” Davis said. “If you’ve been down to USC, you know — the campus is beautiful, the facility is beautiful and football is a tradition. You can’t beat it.”
Tuputala thinks UW can. But it’s an ongoing debate that can be settled later.
“Anytime you have two Pac-12 guys on your team, it’s a big deal and blessing,” Meagher said. “They play at a different level and speed in practice and games. They’re definitely our leaders and trying to end their high-school careers the right way.”