When he’s not trying to perfect his craft as a pass rusher on the football field, you can probably find Teitum Tuioti on a volleyball court or at a card table.
The Lincoln Southeast junior-to-be plays volleyball for about 2-3 hours almost every Wednesday with his family, which is filled with good volleyball players.
His mom, Keala, played collegiately at the University of Hawaii. His older sister, Teisa, played at Hawaii-Hilo before suiting up for Midland University in Fremont after his dad, Tony, got the job as Nebraska’s defensive line coach.
“My two younger sisters (Teiyana and Teinia) are probably going to do the same (play college volleyball),” Teitum said.
But don’t get things twisted. Tuioti prefers hunting ball carriers above all else.
Following a sophomore season where he racked up 45 tackles and a team-high 5 1/2 sacks, college football programs started calling. Utah State was the first, then Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels from the Southeastern Conference. Washington, Boise State, Washington State and California all followed. And of course, the hometown Huskers.
Having seven scholarship offers from big-time Power 5 programs under your belt before you start your junior year of high school is impressive. It makes Tuioti want to work harder. But it also might draw opponents’ attention to him.
“It definitely puts a target on my back,” he said. “People will be coming out to get me during the season. But I just want to stay cool and play my game. Show everyone what I got. I just want to be the best teammate I can be, because without the team you’re nothing.”
Right now, the focus is on getting better. There’s been workout sessions dedicated to improving the explosiveness of his get-off.
He’s been tightening up and adding to his pass-rushing arsenal, too. One move he’s working on is called a ghost rush, where after attacking the line of scrimmage with 3-4 steps, he’ll avoid or dip under the first punch of the offensive lineman while working around him to the quarterback.
But Tuioti knows that hand-to-hand warfare in the trenches is important, and he wants to keep improving on it.
“During the season it was a little messed up,” he said. “I wasn’t doing it totally right, so we’re cleaning that up and just trying to stay in shape and put on weight.”
There’s no better teacher than the one living under his own roof.
“He’s the one who’s teaching me everything,” Teitum said of his dad. “The past four or five months, he’s been working with me and my siblings and we’ve been getting better.”
Tuioti said he played his sophomore season at 185 pounds. Now, at 6-foot-3 1/2, he’s sitting at 220. He got to that weight by eating the right kind of foods — a lot of spaghetti and steak, for example — while lifting like a madman.
It’s all part of growing into the best defensive end/outside linebacker he can be. Rugby helped that growth, too.
Tuioti played on a travel rugby team in middle school while in California. As you can imagine, that experience has aided him in his football life.
“It really helped me with my tackling form. In football you’re more kind of diving into people because you got pads and a helmet,” he said. “But in rugby, if you dive at someone you’re going to get cleated in the face or you’re going to face-plant. So you have to be more safe about tackling.”
The two Fs — family and faith — are other parts of the process to become the best football player and person he can be.
Teitum has two older brothers who are both playing football at the next level. Teivis is a sophomore defensive lineman at Nevada while Teilor, who just graduated from Southeast, will play at New Mexico Military Institute.
“I really love my family. With my dad’s job, we’ve moved around like seven or eight times,” Teitum said. “They’ve been with me my whole life and I don’t know where I’d be without them. They’re just really fun to hang around with.”
Teitum likes that each brother has their won personality. He likes Teilor’s humor. Teivis takes things a bit more seriously.
Teivis and Teilor have, and will continue to be, a big help for Teitum during his recruiting process. But at the end of the day, Teitum is still the younger brother looking up to his older bros. Not just in sports, but in life.
“Teivis is the oldest brother, and we all look up to him,” Teitum said. “I want to follow in his footsteps, so basically whatever he does I want to try copying it, do my best to be like him because what he does is kind of the standard around here. I just really like what he does and am really grateful for him.
“With Teilor, I like to follow his personality. I like how he acts around people and his family,” he added. “I kind of struggle to express myself a little bit, so Teilor really helps me with that. Sometimes he just talks to me about how to be a better person and sibling.”
That leaves faith. It’s big in the Tuioti house. The family belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Teitum believes it benefits him on and off the field.
“It really just balances my life out. If I just played sports all day, I’d be missing the religious part,” he said. “And I really think if I stay balanced in my life, I’ll be good and I’ll be alright.”
There’s many things helping Teitum Tuioti grow into one of the state’s top high school players and recruits.
Family and faith — throw in some volleyball and cards, too — are big parts to the process that seems to be doing just fine.