Though they've traveled different paths, the goal today is the same for Kaniela Tuipulotu and Andrew Faaumu.
Maui's only members of the University of Hawaii football team will start in the trenches against Brigham Young at Aloha Stadium, knowing the Warriors (6-6) must beat the Cougars (8-3) to secure a berth in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.
"I think Kaniela and Andrew are part of the Maui movement," said Tony Tuioti, Tuipulotu's position coach on the defensive line. "That is what Kaniela always talks about, trying to represent not only Hawaii but also the island of Maui. They take a lot of pride in that."
Kaniela Tuipulotu has 32 tackles, including one sack, for the University of Hawaii this season.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII photo
Andrew Faaumu has made eight starts on the offensive line.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII photo
The former Lahainaluna High School players have some other similarities - they are cousins, and each is listed at 300 pounds or more.
Past that, though, their journey to the final regular-season game of their college careers could hardly have varied more.
Tuipulotu transferred to Kahuku after a standout freshman season for the Lunas in 2003. He won back-to-back state titles with the Red Raiders and was one of the state's top prospects when he signed with Arizona in 2007.
After two good seasons in Tucson, the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder transferred to UH. He sat out the 2009 season, and has made 26 starts since.
"It has come up quick and right now it is kind of settling in that my college football career is coming to an end," Tuipulotu said after Tuesday's practice. "That's life. I am just trying to deal with it right now. I just hope to end it on a good note."
Life as an interior defensive lineman does not come with gaudy statistics. This season, Tuipulotu has 32 tackles - four for loss, including one sack. Last season, his numbers were remarkably similar - 34 tackles, 3 1/2 for loss.
Faaumu enrolled at Kapiolani Community College out of Lahainaluna in 2006. He transferred to Hawaii Pacific a year later and then to UH in 2008. After three seasons of not playing football and one unsuccessful walk-on tryout, he made the Warriors in 2009.
Faaumu appeared in nine games on the offensive line in each of his first two seasons in Manoa. Then, with fall camp winding down this year, his communications degree in hand, he was told he was receiving a scholarship.
"It is pretty tough," the 6-3, 315-pound Faaumu said. "Out of all the years of being around here and trying to get where I need to be, working out, and now it is coming towards the end, so in a way I feel kind of sad because I don't want to leave. But it also comes with a sense of accomplishment."
Faaumu has started eight games this year.
"Things didn't always go his way, but here he is as a starter," Tuipulotu said. "It just shows what hard work and dedication does. He is one of the hardest-working guys on our team and he has shown everybody what he can do."
Faaumu credits his brother William, four years older and a former walk-on at UH, with being a driving force.
"He always reminded me of where and what I wanted to be - a University of Hawaii football player," Andrew Faaumu said. "I started off rough, but I finished strong."
The Warriors and Cougars are meeting for the first time since 2002. BYU leads the all-time series 19-8.
"Oh yeah, they have a lot of Polynesians, a lot of my friends over there," said Tuipulotu, who will graduate with a sociology degree this month. "It is just a great way to end the season, to renew this rivalry again."
Hawaii is trying to avoid finishing under .500 for just the second time in six seasons.
"We wanted better results, you know, but that is just how football is," Tuipulotu said. "It doesn't always go your way, but you try to keep with it and keep fighting to the end."
Tuipulotu was a Western Athletic Conference second-team pick last year, and is considered an NFL draft prospect.
"He has been the anchor of our defensive line for the past two years here," Tuioti said. "He has been the leader of our guys up front. He brings a swagger, a physical presence."
Tuipulotu said of his future: "(The NFL) is definitely a goal of mine. If you're playing Division I football, college football at the highest level, if the NFL is not a goal, I don't know what you are doing playing football."
Faaumu said: "My main focus right now is football. I am thankful I got my degree and getting my master's is something I want to do in the future. I kind of see football as my opportunity right now. I only can do this sport so long. I'm only 23, but some days I wake up and I feel 30."
Warriors offensive line coach Gordie Shaw would not rule out the NFL for Faaumu.
"He has come halfway around the world," Shaw said. "Before I got here three years ago, he walked on to the program, but he was cut because of him being too big. When I got here in February of 2009, he came back out and I identified him as one of the guys who could help us. Some of the coaches who had cut him the previous year couldn't believe that he had dropped almost 60 pounds. I thought, 'That's a good start. He has got motivation.' He has done nothing but improve in all the years that I have coached him."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
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