The Daily Eastern News

Tanuvasa steps into starting role at center as freshman

Eastern+freshman+center+Eliki+Tanuvasa+sits+in+his+ready+stance+after+a+practice+at+O%E2%80%99Brien+Field+on+Oct.+2.+Tanuvasa+has+taken+over+the+starting+role+at+center+after+incumbent+Cole+Hoover+got+injured.+Tanuvasa%E2%80%99s+above-average+play+at+the+position+has+made+him+now+the+every-day+starter.
Eastern freshman center Eliki Tanuvasa sits in his ready stance after a practice at O’Brien Field on Oct. 2. Tanuvasa has taken over the starting role at center after incumbent Cole Hoover got injured. Tanuvasa’s above-average play at the position has made him now the every-day starter.

Eastern freshman center Eliki Tanuvasa sits in his ready stance after a practice at O’Brien Field on Oct. 2. Tanuvasa has taken over the starting role at center after incumbent Cole Hoover got injured. Tanuvasa’s above-average play at the position has made him now the every-day starter.

JJ Bullock

JJ Bullock

Eastern freshman center Eliki Tanuvasa sits in his ready stance after a practice at O’Brien Field on Oct. 2. Tanuvasa has taken over the starting role at center after incumbent Cole Hoover got injured. Tanuvasa’s above-average play at the position has made him now the every-day starter.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

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In college football, starting a true-freshman at any position on the field is a rarity, one that is reserved for only the most elite talents or team’s put in a less than optimal spot. Regardless, starting a freshman anywhere is something that is generally avoided, and perhaps no position hold this to be true more than the offensive line. 

However, when Eastern’s starting center Cole Hoover, a player who has been with the team since 2016, went down with injury in week one against Arkansas, the Panthers were forced to call upon a true-freshman to take his place in the middle of the offensive line. Que the entrance of freshman and Hawaii native Eliki Tanuvasa, a kid who has not even been in college for two months but is now tasked with anchoring Eastern’s offensive line. 

“I definitely didn’t expect (to be starting) off the bat so early,” Tanuvasa said. “But I have done it before coming up to varsity my sophomore season, I ended up taking the starting position as a sophomore. So, I was ready for it, but like coach said, it’s the next man up, and unfortunately Cole Hoover went down before the half against Arkansas, and I just had to step up and do my job.”

On national signing day last Febuary, Tanuvasa was pegged as a player who coaches said could come into the program and make an impact early in his college career. It is tough to imagine, however, that anyone expected him to be in a starting role this early, playing as well as he has.

“To be the center in this offense as a true-freshman, that’s something special,” head coach Kim Dameron said. “He calls the snap count, he makes the line calls, he’s a very smart young man.He is a heck of a football player, and he is going to get better and better, so we’re excited.”

When Tanuvasa was called in to play for the first time, it was against Arkansas of the SEC conference, a daunting team for most upperclassmen to face, much less a freshman in his first career game. And, Tanuvasa admitted, he definitely had nerves going into the game.

“All it takes is that first hit. You’ve got to get the jitters out,” Tanuvasa said. “After I had my first play in the game, then I felt like I was ready, I was good. You just have to get that first hit, you have to get the jitters out, but then after that I just had to be doing what I had been doing for the last couple years and see what I could do.”

The offense is new to the entire team this season, even the upperclassmen and incumbents had to spend time last spring and during fall camp learning the offense, so for a freshman like Tanuvasa to step in and take over the line like he has, is nothing short of impressive. 

“I had to pick it up really quickly knowing that I really wanted to play this year, even though I was a freshman,” Tanuvasa said. “So, as soon as I got here I made extra time to work with Cole Hoover and all the seniors and all the older guys. I just had to pick it up as fast as I could, knowing that I could possibly get in the game.”

The group of “older guys” on this Eastern offensive line is deep. Guys like senior Aaron Callaway, senior Grant Branch and redshirt-junior Josh Doyle are all guys that have been there and done that for the Panthers over the last four seasons. Having that veteran presence is something Tanuvasa said has “100 percent” helped him this year at Eastern.

“Those guys have done nothing but made me feel at home out here,” Tanuvasa said. “Making the transition from never leaving a rock back home in Hawaii to coming to the Midwest, that’s really, really different for me, different people. But, you know because of the O-line, I want to thank the whole O-line. If it wasn’t for them, this transition was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.”

Tanuvasa, like many division one athletes, is no stranger to success. In high school he was named first-team All-State as a senior and helped his team win back-to-back championships in the state of Hawaii. His journey from All-State athlete in Hawaii to football player in Charleston is one that Eastern is very familiar with. 

Tanuvasa played at St. Louis Prep High School in Honolulu with Eastern’s redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Aaron Miller, and both Miller and Tanuvasa step in as St. Louis Prep alumni with big shoes to fill, as that is also the alma mater of Louis Vailopa, a four-year starter and 2017 graduate at Eastern who made 34 starts at center in his time as a Panther.

Having Miller and Vailopa is something Tanuvasa said “definitely” made his decision to come to Eastern much easier. 

“I remember watching Louis play when I was in 8th grade, he was a baller back home in Hawaii,” Tanuvasa said. “Aaron Miller, I played with him my sophomore year when he was a senior, and knowing that I would have somebody back home, because being away from Hawaii, being away from home is really tough for all the locals in Hawaii. But just knowing that I had Coach Uperesa, he is from Hawaii, his family here, they are always taking care of me, and knowing that Aaron Miller was going to be here really helped me.”

Tanuvasa, on the field, wants his opponents see how “nasty” he is and how he can dominate someone one-on-one. He is not much of a talker; he said he would rather have his opponent feel him on the line rather than hear him. 

“I want them to remember my number,” Tanuvasa said.

If Tanuvasa continues to play as he has over his next four years at Eastern, than like Vailopa who came before him, Tanuvasa may get his wish and then some, as more than just his oppenents will remember his number for a long time in Charleston.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]

About the Contributor
JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Hey, I’m JJ Bullock and I am the Sports Editor. I am a junior journalism major. I spent last year as the Assistant Sports Editor. Prior to that I served as the sports designer for The Daily Eastern News. I have covered men’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, football, men’s and women’s basketball and softball in my time at the DEN.

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Tanuvasa steps into starting role at center as freshman