Foothill’s Lawrence Mariner remembers sitting in the stands nearly a decade ago, watching his cousin, George Tuioti, play football.
“He was amazing,” Mariner said. “I remember his getting an interception against Mater Dei and returning it for a touchdown. The crowd went crazy when he played. Watching, I knew I wanted to play under the lights just like him.”
Tuioti remembers standing on the sideline last year, watching his cousin play fullback and linebacker.
“At this stage, he’s better,” said Tuioti, Foothill’s linebacker coach. “The kid is big and the kid is fast. He broke through the line and these two guys had an angle on him. He just outran them both. It was amazing.”
More than bloodlines are at work with Tuioti and Mariner. True, their fathers are brothers, but the more significant common denominator these days is football.
The similarities are frightening, for opposing players.
“Lawrence reminds me so much of George in the way he carries himself and the way he plays,” said Foothill Coach Tom Meiss, who coached Tuioti at Santa Ana High. “They both speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Because of the likeness in size and ability, Tuioti, 25, takes a special interest in his cousin. Mariner, at 6 feet 3, 227 pounds, has the ability to make it as a college player and it’s there Tuioti would like to see the similarities end.
His career took many turns and was painful. He signed with USC, but was ineligible under Proposition 48 rules. But even before USC withdrew the scholarship offer, Tuioti’s college career was in jeopardy.
He suffered a knee injury while practicing for the Orange County all-star game. His knee was severely damaged, but he played on. He went to San Diego State for one year, then transferred to Rancho Santiago before becoming a two-time All-Big West selection at New Mexico State.
It worked out in the end. Tuioti earned a degree in criminal justice and works with juvenile criminals for the county. But he would rather his cousin not take such a tortuous path.
“George is always on me to keep my grades up,” said Mariner, who is a B student. “He tells me to take care of things off the field.”
Said Tuioti: “Lawrence does realize what athletics can do for him. He also knows it could end driving home tonight. He knows the spiritual side is No. 1, academics is No. 2 and then come sports.”
The third point takes care of itself in Mariner’s case.
He transferred from El Modena after two games last season to play with his cousin, Tony Tuioti, George’s brother. His impact was part of the reason the Knights shook off a 1-4 start to win the Century League.
Mariner was eligible for Foothill’s fourth game and the Knights won seven consecutive games. His versatility was phenomenal and never more evident than against El Modena.
Said Tuioti: “Lawrence breaks away for a 76-yard touchdown. Then he breaks the wedge on the kickoff and makes the tackle. Then he makes the tackle on the first play from scrimmage.”
Mariner’s play became more vital during the Southern Section Division V playoffs.
In the first round, he intercepted a pass to set up the Knights’ first touchdown in a 27-9 victory over Kennedy.
In the second round, his interception with 2 minutes 35 seconds left clinched a 14-7 victory over Valencia. He also had scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 18-yard run late in the third quarter.
“I don’t let Lawrence throw the football around in practice because he tosses it 70 yards and I’m tempted to use him at quarterback,” Meiss said. “We have guys who can play quarterback, but no one that plays fullback like Lawrence.”
Few play linebacker as well, except maybe his cousin.