Los Angeles Times

Teaupa one hot act for Newport Harbor

It's safe to say the football is secure with Talalelei Teaupa.

The day after he plays tailback for Newport Harbor High on Friday nights, the 17-year-old plays with a knife on fire. Holding onto the ball is easy when compared to how Teaupa handles a machete engulfed in flames at each end.

Teaupa is a Samoan fire knife dancer on the weekends.

You've probably seen one before if you've been to a luau in Hawaii. Picture a bare-chested dancer twirling, throwing and catching a flaming knife and that's Teaupa.

The job is dangerous. Nothing protects Teaupa, no pads, no helmet, no blockers. All he has on is a colorful skirt, a lava-lava.

You might be surprised at what worries him the most during the act. It's his hair catching on fire.

The hair used to be longer than it is now. Don't worry, he didn't lose much of his hair because it ignited while performing.

Teaupa got a haircut this summer. The hair that he said he had grown since sixth grade because of his culture, he's Samoan and Tongan, was no longer long enough to wear in a bun.

The hair used to go all the way down near his butt. He said he was hesitant to lop it off because it was part of his identity.

"But then I knew it was for a good cause," Teaupa said. "It didn't matter after that."

What matters to Teaupa is family.

He said he honored two family members, his aunt Carmen Picon and grandma Gloria Weygand, both passed away from cancer. He donated his hair to the Locks of Love nonprofit organization, which provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under 21 with medical hair loss.

Teaupa still has more hair than the rest of his teammates. The new look hasn't changed him, whether he's performing at a luau or football game.

He just makes sure not to cut himself with the knife. On the field, he knives through defenses.

Teaupa turned in his second straight impressive effort last week. They have come at home against CIF Southern Section finalists from a year ago.

The latest game saw Teaupa rush 24 times for 143 yards and score on a 48-yard touchdown run and 63-yard touchdown reception. The Sailors went on to pull off a 28-7 upset win against San Clemente, ranked No. 8 in the Pac-5 Division at the time.

Two weeks ago, Teaupa had 29 carries for 237 yards and two touchdowns, a career night. To top it off, Newport Harbor came back to beat Corona del Mar, 27-26, in the Battle of the Bay.

In the past two outings, the senior has shown the kind of speed Coach Jeff Brinkley didn't anticipate.

"He's been able to crack the line of scrimmage … and go the distance," said Brinkley of Teaupa, whose longest touchdown of his five this season has been a 74-yard run against CdM. "We've been pleased with the progress he's made."

Teaupa has come back strong after breaking his collarbone before the start of last season.

He missed most of his junior year, when he was supposed to be the starting running back. He was excited to take over in the backfield after the Sailors lost standout Buzzy Yokoyama, who transferred to Mission Viejo High for his senior year.

Teaupa lost someone he looked up to and then his job. A freak accident during practice put him out.

"I just got hit and fell on it wrong, and it just broke," Teaupa said of his collarbone. "I thought I was being like a little baby, until I got up, and then [the trainer] felt it, and she was like, 'Yeah, it's broken.' It all went down from there."

Teaupa said he began to cry like a baby. He was devastated about not being able to play.

To return to the field, he knew he couldn't sob for long. Not after what his mother, Pua Teaupa, has done for him as a single parent.

Teaupa said his father, Mafua, lives in Tonga and he has never seen him play in high school. The person Teaupa said he plays for is his mother, who has raised him.

"It just made me more hungry. I wanted it more," Teaupa said. "It made me want to get better, faster.

"After I look back on my life, she was always there for me at all my games and stuff. She's taken really good care of me."

Pua and Teaupa's grandpa, Bob Weygand, attend Teaupa's games and look out for him – on and off the field. He might wear No. 2 for the Sailors, but Teaupa is No. 1 in their eyes.

Grandpa one time made the hike up to the press box before a game. The reason for the trip was to let the PA announcer know how to pronounce Teaupa correctly.

Pua even gets her son jobs. She works for the Polynesian dance company Alewa Island Inspirations, which is run by Teaupa's aunt, Alewa Maiava-Olotoa.

At the beginning of summer, Teaupa said a teammate's mother hired him to perform the fire knife dance. Teaupa said Marty Taylor's mom never told her son about having Teaupa, who Taylor was going to block for this year as a fullback, over for a dance in front of a book club.

The setting was a first for Teaupa.

"My mom's the one that told me, 'You're going to go dance for Marty's mom.' I'm like, 'Uh, that's awkward,'" said Teaupa, who performed in the front yard of the Taylor home.

"It was like a bunch of moms watching me. Just me with my shirt off."


Twitter: @DCPenaloza


Talalelei Teaupa

Born: Feb. 24, 1995

Hometown: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 190 pounds

Sport: Football

Year: Senior

Coach: Jeff Brinkley

Favorite food: Chicken Katsu

Favorite movie: "50 First Dates"

Favorite athletic moment: "Definitely winning Battle of the Bay senior year. Cole Norris threw the game-winning [touchdown] pass [with 24 seconds left to beat CdM, 27-26]."

Week in review: Teaupa rushed 24 times for 143 yards and scored on a 48-yard touchdown run and 63-yard touchdown reception in the Sailors' 28-7 upset win against San Clemente.

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