Say the words “Polynesian” and “wave,” and your average Virginia fan probably conjures up images of towering Pacific Ocean breakers headed towards the beaches of Hawaii. Soon, however, those words might have a different connotation. There’s a chance of a Polynesian wave coming to Mr. Jefferson’s country, and it could have a significant impact on the fortunes of the UVA football program.
The burgeoning trend of Polynesian players heading to Charlottesville began quietly last year. Virginia hosted Hawaii running back Wayne Taulapapa on the last weekend of the 2016 recruiting cycle. Taualapapa signed with UVA the following week. He’s scheduled to join the program in 2018 following a two-year Mormon mission.
The big wave could come this year. Virginia received a commitment from Ohio offensive lineman Chris Glaser in July. Glaser is one of five seniors on UVA’s recruiting radar who are currently slated to play in the first ever Polynesian Bowl on January 21. In addition, Virginia is pursuing a quintet of uncommitted players: offensive lineman Mo Unutoa, defensive ends Miki Suguturaga and Aliki Vimahi, and outside linebacker Levani Damuni.
Among the uncommitted players, Virginia looks to be in the best shape with Vimahi, Suguturaga, and Unutoa. The three Hawaiians took an official visit to UVA together in early December. Vimahi produced a rather positive tweet shortly thereafter, and he’s currently pinned it to the top of his Twitter account.
Damuni looks to be the gem of the group, according to the recruiting services. Rivals has him listed as a 4-star prospect and as the fifth-best player in the state of Utah. He’d be the second-highest commitment in Virginia’s class if he committed today, according to 247 Sports. Virginia has had success recruiting linebackers this year, and reeling in Damuni would be a major coup.
UVA’s interest in Polynesian players can be traced to Bronco Mendenhall’s arrival in Charlottesville. Mendenhall’s staff includes three coaches of Polynesian descent: offensive coordinator Robert Anae, running backs coach Mark Atuaia, and graduate assistant Vic So’oto. BYU, where Mendenhall was previously, has featured a number of great Polynesian players throughout its history. Most recently, Harvey Unga was an all-conference running back for Mendenhall and Atuaia in 2008.
It will be interesting to see if a similar Polynesian pipeline starts flowing to Charlottesville. Virginia hasn’t traditionally recruited much west of the Mississippi, but Mendenhall’s staff has most of its recruiting experience out there. Mendenhall has said that UVA will primarily focus on recruiting the Commonwealth of Virginia, but it will take a while for the new staff to make headway there. In the meantime, the program desperately needs to find talent and depth wherever it can.
Could an influx of Polynesian players help rebuild the football foundation in Charlottesville? We’ll know more after National Signing Day next month. For now, it’s one of the more interesting recruiting stories to follow.