After University of Hawaii linebacker Jeremiah Pritchard suffered serious injuries in a car accident earlier this summer, head coach Todd Graham put the onus on the team’s other linebackers to step up in his place ahead of the 2021 season.
Earlier in fall camp, Graham singled out Darius Muasau, Penei Pavihi and Isaiah Tufaga as those seeing increased reps in Pritchard’s absence. While Muasau and Pavihi each have over a dozen starts in a Hawaii jersey, Tufaga, an Oregon State transfer, had two in 2020.
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Tufaga does not take his increased role lightly.
“I was under Miah last year so we had a little rotation and he kind of helped me out throughout the season and getting ready and stuff like that,” Tufaga said. “Of course I feel a big role and I feel so bad for him that he can’t be here with us. I feel like it’s a good responsibility for me to kind of step up for him.
Tufaga, a Laie native and Saint Louis alumnus, was an all-state safety for the Crusaders. It wasn’t until his freshman season at Oregon State in 2018 that he made the move to linebacker, a position he stuck with upon transferring to UH prior to the 2019 season.
Playing linebacker runs in the Tufaga family. Isaiah’s father, Wes, was a linebacker for the University of Utah two decades ago. Mason Tufaga, Isaiah’s younger brother, is currently a freshman linebacker for the Utes.
The Rainbow Warriors are less than a week away from the 2021 season, which begins on Aug. 28 at UCLA. Among multiple notable games for the ‘Bows is a Sept. 11 matchup at Oregon State, where Tufaga will return to his old stomping grounds.
UH will return to its regular 13-game schedule after playing just nine last season. The linebacker corps and its depth will get tested, but Tufaga believes as long as the unit sticks together, they’ll be just fine.
“Being in and out of rotation, it kind of just fueled the fire to just get better. Our linebacker core is pretty deep right now with me, Penei and Darius,” Tufaga said. “We all take on a different role and a different approach to things. There will be a cool little rotation between us and we’ll see. The coaches are going to make the decisions and we just got to go out there and make plays.
“Doing that, it not only makes us just better players, but better teammates within our chemistry and doing things not only on the field but off the field. It will help us on the field play together and within the scheme and stuff also.”