Some at UW believe Sama Paama has the greatest upside of anyone in the Huskies' 2019 class. Washington was the first to offer Paama, who plans to enroll in the spring — at just 17 years old.
David Tautofi didn’t know much about his new 355-pound sophomore lineman, but he knew he wasn’t going to let Sama Paama lie there in the middle of the field forever.
In the summer of 2016, in one of his first practices at Honolulu’s Kaimuki High School, Paama managed the first 110-yard sprint just fine. He surged to the finish, even.
“He was showing off,” said Tautofi, the Kaimuki coach. “He’s got that (speed) in him.”
It was the other nine required sprints that quickly caught up to Paama. Some 30 yards into the second run, he stopped and lied flat on his back as teammates ran back and forth around him.
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Tautofi wouldn’t allow Paama to quit. He helped Paama to his feet, then walked at the lineman’s side the rest of the way.
“He ended up finishing all 10 sprints,” Tautofi said.
On Wednesday, Evangelist Elisama “Sama” Paama was one of 20 recruits to sign with the Washington Huskies, and Tautofi said the 6-foot-4, 336-pound defensive lineman is on track to graduate early from Kaimuki and plans to enroll in UW classes next spring.
Washington was the first college program to offer Paama a scholarship, and he just might be the most intriguing recruit coach Chris Petersen has ever brought to UW.
There are some in the UW football offices who believe Paama has the greatest upside of anyone in UW’s 2019 class. And, as Petersen pointed out Wednesday, Paama is still just 16 years old.
Tautofi said Paama will turn 17 later this month.
“He is — I’m not sure how to describe him,” Petersen said. “I mean, he is so interesting because he’s so big and he’s explosive. You just wouldn’t think somebody that size could move like that. And he’s not only all those things — he’s so young. …
“So he’s a really exciting player for us to get. For as explosive as he is, and for all the great things he did for his high school, we still think he has a really big upside.”
The Huskies discovered Paama by accident a couple years ago.
One UW recruiting assistant was watching game film of a linebacker from another school — that recruit, Zion Tupuola-Fetui from Pearl City, wound up signing with the Huskies last year — when No. 64 in the green jersey on the other side of the field kept popping up.
At that point, Paama didn’t have a recruiting page on 247Sports.com or his own Twitter handle. He had only recently moved back from Samoa to Waipahu, Hawaii, and Tautofi didn’t even know much about Paama when he first arrived Kaimuki.
Then Paama got in front of a five-man blocking sled.
During a typical sled drill, a group of linemen get set in a three-point stance in front of the sled and at “hike” engage with the blocking pads. “No one ever actually lifts the sled,” Tautofi said.
Paama stood in front of the sled on his own, with Tautofi standing on top of the contraption for added weight. When Paama engaged the blocking dummies, he lifted the sled off the ground.
“He literally lifts it up on his own,” Tautofi said. “I had to jump off before I flew off.”
That was the moment that Tautofi, who played defensive end for UCLA in the early 2000s, started to realize he might be working with a rare talent.
Kaimuki is a small Division II school with an enrollment of about 650, Tautofi said. This season, Kaimuki had just 21 players initially turn out for football, and that meant Paama played on both offensive and defensive lines and on occasion he was asked to be the kickoff specialist (and he did so left-footed).
“It just got to the point where I needed to find someone who could kick it more than 20 yards,” Tautofi said.
Paama, a team captain, played most of the past two seasons around 355 pounds, and he helped lead Kaimuki to a 10-3 record and the semifinals of the Division II HHSAA state playoffs this fall.
Along the way, he got serious about his studies, and about his conditioning, and he became one of Hawaii’s top players, earning first-team all-state recognition from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Tautofi was by his side for much of the way. The coach said he is most proud of Paama’s maturation off the field. Over the past two years, Tautofi said Paama has completed 15 community-service projects around Honolulu — cleaning up beaches, assisting a food drive, speaking to elementary-school classes.
“Freshman and sophomore year, I was slacking a lot. If it wasn’t for Coach T, I would never have grown up,” Paama told the Star-Advertiser. “At first, it was hard. Coach David teaches us more than football. He’s been through what we’ve been through, just a regular Palolo boy trying to make it out of the Valley. As time went by, I trusted him.”
Added Tautofi: “His journey is special. He’s been fortunate to overcome a lot of what he’s gone through, and he still has that sense of hope.”