The Cougars' 2016 recruiting class got a nice boost within the first hour when former Juanita High linebacker Suliasi Tamaivena flipped his commitment from San Jose State. He hopes to also bring his twin brother to WSU
Only one thing surprised Washington State coach Mike Leach on National Signing Day: there were no surprises.
“I’m stunned to tell you that there were none,” Leach said Wednesday, in his press conference to wrap up Signing Day. “The most notable thing about this class is that it went almost entirely as expected. It’s the first time in history that’s happened for me.”
The Cougars unveiled a 25-strong recruiting class that’s heavy on offensive linemen and receivers, with an emphasis on size at those positions and speed on the defensive side.
Still, even if the Cougars’ coaches weren’t surprised by how smoothly things went, there were a couple of surprises in store for fans.
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Frederick Mauigoa, the top recruit in American Samoa, had been toying between Oregon State and WSU, and it wasn’t till Wednesday morning that his signing with the Cougars was announced.
However, since Mauigoa plays for WSU defensive line coach Joe Salave’a brother, Okland Salave’a at Tafuna High in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Cougars’ coaches likely knew ahead of time that his commitment was imminent.
The bigger surprise for WSU fans came when former Juanita High linebacker Suliasi Tamaivena flipped his commitment from San Jose State to sign a National Letter of Intent with WSU.
Suliasi Tamaivena and his twin brother, Sitiveni Tamaivena are Kirkland natives who played their prep football at Juanita High, where they were part of the class of 2011. The brothers spent the last two years at Mount San Antonio (Calif.) Community College. Suliasi Tamaivena had 81 total tackles last season, including 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He also tallied seven pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
But this might end up being a package deal for the Cougars. According to Suli Tamaivena and his junior college position coach, Junior Tanuvasa, Sitiveni Tamaivena also holds a WSU offer and will join Suli in Pullman this summer as long as he can get his GPA up.
“Siti can’t sign until his academics are taken care of. He’s struggled a little more than Suli, but he’s in our winter session right now, and he just has to improve his GPA,” Tanuvasa said. “He’s plugging away right now and he’s close.”
Leach cannot comment on recruits until they sign with WSU, but conceded that there’s a possibility the Cougs could add a player or two between now and the fall.
Both Tamaivena brothers were originally committed to San Jose State. But when the coach who recruited them to San Jose Sate took a job at Arizona, the Tamaivenas started looking around.
They’d taken an unofficial visit to Washington State last summer, where they met and liked the coaching staff, and they’d kept in close touch with linebackers coach Ken Wilson. Their parents were also strong advocates for the Cougs because of how much closer Pullman is to the family home in Renton.
So Suli Tamaivena signed with WSU on Signing Day, and his brother hopes to join him in Pullman this fall, where the twins could contend for immediate playing time as juniors.
It’s quite the turnaround for two players who didn’t attract any interest out of high school in part because they were academic non-qualifiers.
“We just knew we weren’t getting recruited. So we took two years off school,” Suli Tamaivena said Wednesday. “We stayed in Seattle and played rugby.”
The Tamaivenas were born in Fiji, and their father, Levi Tamaivena, was a legend on the Fiji national rugby team whose status in Fiji is akin to the kind of status Jonah Lomu had in New Zealand when he played for the All-Blacks, Tanuvasa said.
“All their accomplishments here have been front page news in Fiji,” Tanuvasa said. “Their dad is a freak. Coach (Mike) Leach should sign their dad too for a couple of years.”
After high school, the Tamaivena twins played rugby and worked for their father. But the itch to play football soon returned and a family member pointed them in the direction of Mt. San Antonio, where Tanuvasa, a Tacoma native, is the linebackers coach.
The twins greyshirted their first year to work on their academics, then they made an instant impact as starting outside linebackers for the Mounties.
“We honed their skills and they helped lead us to a state championship. We went 19-4 in their two years here,” Tanuvasa said. “They’re great kids. Really strong in their faith, easy to coach, ‘yes sir, no yes’ type of guys. They’re probably the best two (junior college) players in the state of California, if not in the country.”
The Tamaivenas are scheduled to graduate from junior college in June and join the Cougars for summer school.
Suli’s film shows a fast, adept pass rusher who plays with the kind of physicality the Cougs like. Recruiting site 247Sports.com rated Siti Tamaivena the fifth-best junior college outside linebacker in the country, while Suli Tamaivena was ranked ninth on that list.
Fellow WSU signee Chima Oneukwu (Contra Costa College, Calif.) is rated the sixth-best outside linebacker JuCo prospect in the same set of rankings. Add Crenshaw (Los Angeles, Calif.) star Derek Moore and Helix (La Mesa, Calif.) High linebackers Mason Vinyard and Jahad Woods to the mix, and the Cougars got what they sought in this recruiting cycle: depth and speed at linebacker.
This should help to cushion the impact of losing Jeremiah Allison, Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio to graduation.
“Across the board at all positions, we targeted athleticism,” WSU Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It’s hard to find the slow kid in the class, and that wasn’t by chance, that was by design.”
WSU signed five linebackers and five defensive backs – second in number only to the six offensive linemen in the 2016 class.
The coaches started their day at 6 a.m., with a letter of intent from Taylorsville (Utah) DE Lyric Bartley, and the action wrapped up a little before 10:30 a.m., when Mauigoa sent in his letter of intent.
Here’s a look at Tamaivena’s high school film.
And here’s his JuCo film: