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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Cousins, Identical Cousins”

    Vuna and Apaiata Tuihalamaka have been teammates practically their whole lives. As cousins, they grew up together and both played football for Hawthorne High in Hawthorne, Calif.

    Playing together became so familiar that Apaiata, the younger cousin by two years, transferred high schools upon Vuna’s departure simply due to the discomfort of missing his counterpart, his “”brother.””

    “”I didn’t like (playing without Vuna),”” said Apaiata, a defensive end. “”I felt like we had a strong brotherhood. He left and I transferred to another private school.””

    With such a strong bond, it comes as no surprise the two chose to stay together at the next level.

    While Apaiata finished his final two years of prep football at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., Vuna spent two years in the junior college ranks playing for El Camino College as a linebacker.

    In his two years in Torrence, Calif., Vuna was listed as one of the top 30 junior college players in the country as well as being named first team junior college All-American.

    A hot prospect for several Division I schools, Vuna committed to Arizona prior to the 2007 season, along with Apaiata. The cousins, however, were kept from playing together for yet another season as Vuna was deemed academically ineligible for the season.

    But when spring practice opened March 8, the two were reunited yet again on the gridiron.

    “”It feels good having (Apaiata) here and with me in practice,”” Vuna said. “”It’s fun and exciting to play with him again.””

    Apaiata added to his cousin’s comments saying, “”It brings some family spirit which makes a difference. Last semester I missed out with (Vuna), but now we’re together once again.””

    Though the two are playing together yet again, another change has come for Apaiata. The former linebacker switched positions during the offseason and is spending spring camp working on transferring his talents to the defensive
    end position.

    Apaiata, currently sitting third at his position on the depth chart, said the switch has felt “”natural”” as his experience at defensive end in high school is aiding him in the transition.

    Despite the limited number of practices thus far, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said he felt Apaiata is making a good impression up to this point.

    “”He’s doing very well, we like him (at defensive end),”” Stoops said. “”He’s very explosive. He’s very quick and gives us some good speed up the edge there with his pass rush ability. So I think he’s found a home there.””

    Vuna, meanwhile, is trying to find his place at what appears to be a wide open linebacker position. Anchored by senior middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer, the Arizona linebacking core will be missing the presence of departed leader Spencer Larsen. Among the players vying for a starting role, only Palmer and senior Adrian McCovy have recorded starts while with the Wildcats.

    The situation proves opportunistic for Vuna who spent the 2007 season working out off the football field due to his academic mishaps.

    “”(Vuna) is a big plus for us,”” Palmer said. “”He’s got a lot of size and speed. He can move really good and can move well to fill the holes. He’s definitely looking impressive right now.””

    While nothing will likely be set in stone for quite some time, the Tuihalamaka cousins have wasted no time in making themselves known to the coaching staff. Through their characteristic determined work ethic, the two have given head coach Mike Stoops reason to believe the two can be something special.

    “”I’ve been very impressed with both players,”” Mike Stoops said. “”They both play extremely hard, they’re both very disciplined – they’re just tough players.

    “”I think they both have a chance to really be factors as we go through this spring and obviously next fall,”” he added.

    Working hard is nothing new to the Tuihalamakas. After all, both were touted as top prospects prior to signing with

    Arizona. With their close bond and similar personalities, it’s easy to understand why so many coaches and teammates speak so highly of the two players.

    But if you ask Apaiata, he attributes much of his success to his cousin, with whom he shares the likes of a “”strong brotherhood.””

    “”(Vuna) taught me my work ethic,”” Apaiata said. “”I see him out there on the football field sweating, dying, putting forth all his effort. That just makes me want to go out and give the same effort.

    “”We’ve had a lot of success together,”” Apaiata added. “”Hopefully we can continue that success here at Arizona.””

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