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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tau's hard work helps Damien football, family

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

"No. 1, above all else, he's a great kid," Damien football coach Dean Nakagawa said of Sione Tau, who has drawn interest from 16 colleges.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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SCHOOL: Damien Memorial

POSITION: Offensive tackle

DIMENSIONS: 6 feet 6, 286 pounds

INTERESTS: Senior class vice president, music, school ministry

RECRUITING: Colorado, New Mexico State, Boise State and Portland State have made scholarship offers. Twelve other schools are showing strong interest.

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When it comes to being a team player, perhaps no one personifies it better than Damien Memorial School senior Sione Tau.

It's not because he plays offensive line, where blocking gets no glory, or serves as senior class vice president, where he is second fiddle to the president.

No, it is on the homefront that Tau is truly at his finest.

During summers and any other days off from school or football or basketball practice, Tau can be found sweating it out with his father, Ulipo Tau, as a stone mason. While it is not uncommon for high school students to hold part-time jobs to earn spending money, it is rare for athletes to do so because of time constraints. Yet, Tau doesn't work so he can buy an iPod or other luxuries. Instead, he gives a sizeable portion of his earnings back to his father so bills can be paid and food can be put on the table.

The irony is Tau could use a portion of that money he earned so he could put food on his cafeteria table at lunch.

"My dad is the only one working (in the family) and sometimes my dad comes home with no money," Tau said. "I don't even ask him (for money) because I know he's having a hard time with money so sometimes I just come to school and just drink water."

Fortunately, his team is a close-knit unit. Teammates share their lunches with him. A good idea, especially if it is a ball carrier because it would be to their benefit to keep the 6-foot-6, 286-pound Tau well-nourished to protect their welfare on the field.

"My friends keep (my spirits) up," he said. "They don't like seeing me on the side not eating. But most of the time, I just stay in one place and drink water."

Despite the hardship, Tau is considered one of the team's hardest workers, Monarchs' coach Dean Nakagawa said. He said Tau has only recently started bench pressing 300 pounds. He is just grazing the surface of his potential. Nakagawa said Tau might be slightly behind as far as his potential strength.

"Sometimes sleep and food, the basic necessities of life, were lacking," Nakagawa said. "But the kid doesn't complain or make excuses."

Tau said his father encouraged him to do well in school he makes A's and B's so that he would not have to do the same kind of work for a living.

"He said, 'If you don't focus on school, this is what you're going to do. You're going to take up the family business, build walls for the rest of your life,' " Tau said. "He planted that seed in my brain, so I don't have to live his life."

But Tau is more than just a player making good grades. He was junior class president last year, and is also involved in the campus ministry and plays electric guitar for the music ministry. He said he got interested in extra-curricular activities since he attended Pu'uhale Elementary, where he was student government secretary in fourth and fifth grades.

It also was at Pu'uhale where he came to admire future Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who visited the school as a volunteer story reader.

"He's just one of the few Polynesian people trying to help other people," Tau said. "Not too many Polynesians want to run for office."

Just as Tau looks up to the Mayor well, at 6-6, he probably can see him eye-to-eye these days younger Damien students do the same with Tau.

"He's a real nice kid, very humble," said former Damien co-coach Rudy Alejo, the school's athletics academic advisor. "He has a good rapport with our instructors and he's a great role model for the younger guys."

Still, it is on the football field that Tau makes an impression, though not because of the pancake blocks he makes. Some 16 Division I programs have inquired about Tau, the third-highest ranking recruit in the state by Rivals.com. He has offers from Colorado, New Mexico State, Boise State and Portland State. He will make an official recruiting visit to Colorado over the weekend. He will leave after Friday's game against Pac-Five. Mike Sipili, a 2005 graduate of Damien, is a freshman lineman at Colorado.

Whoever gets Tau is getting more than a football player.

"No. 1, above all else, he's a great kid," Nakagawa said. "We wish he could be a bit more nasty on the field, but he's such a nice kid. He's just a good guy. Period."

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at skaneshiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.