Good news came early for University of Hawaii football player Fuata‘i "TJ" Taimatuia.
Through a call from his younger brother on Monday, Taimatuia learned he was named the Mountain West Conference’s defensive player of the week.
"It actually was worth that trip, that layover," said Taimatuia, referring to an airplane problem that delayed the Warriors’ return to Honolulu by 15 hours. They arrived at about 4 a.m. on Monday.
In the Warriors’ 13-0 road victory over San Jose State, Taimatuia amassed 11 tackles, including a stop for a 3-yard loss.
Taimatuia, a weakside linebacker, twice stopped running back Tyler Ervin on fourth-and-short situations on the Spartans’ opening drives of each half. All but one of Taimatuia’s 11 tackles prevented a first down.
Taimatuia also forced a fumble when he hit quarterback Joe Gray, and pounced on the football following a blocked field-goal attempt.
"TJ has come a long way," said Kurt Gouveia, who coaches UH’s outside linebackers.
Gouveia, who was hired in February, was Taimatuia’s fifth coach since joining the Warriors in July 2010. Gouveia and Taimatuia developed a slow bond during spring training.
"He’s been through a lot of coaching changes," Gouveia said. Eventually "he trusted the coaching staff in what we’re trying to accomplish on the football field."
Taimatuia was impressed with Gouveia’s background. Gouveia was a member of teams that won an Oahu Prep Bowl, NCAA championship and Super Bowl.
"Just knowing Coach Gouveia, what he’s been through and what he expects, I’m trying to match that ability to what he wants," Taimatuia said.
Taimatuia said he is comfortable in this system, which is rooted in the concepts implemented by former UH defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda was at Utah State, where he worked with Kevin Clune, who is now in his first year as UH’s defensive coordinator.
"I’m pretty confident in the game plan," Taimatuia said. "I got recruited for that type of defense in the first place."
Taimatuia has the flexibility to align on the edge as a pass rusher or drop into coverage. Against San Jose State, he made three tackles in a four-play sequence, the last stoning Ervin.
"It’s a team defense," Taimatuia said, noting the defensive linemen "helped push the line back, which gave less room for the ballcarrier to decide."
Taimatuia said the MWC award should be shared.
"I wish this award went out to the whole team and the coaching staff," Taimatuia said. "This award isn’t just for me. It’s a credit to the back end and the front end. They paved the way."