The University of New Mexico's clash against in-state rivals New Mexico State University was an edge-of-your-seat kind of game for the 2019 football season. With the game being so close (55-52), it came down to how much fighting spirit the Lobos brought to the field.
"After the game, it was about my grandfather," Quarterback and third-year player Tevaka Tuioti said in an interview with the Daily Lobo. "His family service was coming up on Sunday with a burial Monday morning."
Tuioti was essential to UNM’s success over the Aggies, throwing for 355 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. After the win against NMSU, Tuioti gave brief remarks in the postgame press conference. He wasn’t on his way to celebrate the Lobos' victory with his teammates — he had a flight to California to catch.
"I was just so much focused on 'now that I’m done with the game,' and I did what I had to do. I just wanted to hurry and hop on that plane and get back to my family to help out with the stuff that needs to be done,” Tuioti said.
Over the summer, Tuioti took time off from offseason practice to spend time with his family. When word of his grandfather falling ill reached him, he chose to miss the fall camp that the team held in early August to be with his grandfather in San Diego, California.
Tuioti is one of seven siblings: He has four brothers and two sisters. He reflected on what it was like coming from such a large family and the difficulty of moving to New Mexico for college.
He also detailed the effort that his grandparents and other family members made to be as involved as possible in his life and the memories of large family outings to San Diego, where his grandparents resided.
"Being away from my parents was pretty hard. I’d never been away from them," Tuioti said, adding that he came to New Mexico with a mindset of "trying to get things done."
Going back home for his grandfather’s funeral was the culmination of months of difficulty that Tuioti faced alongside his family. He said that his grandfather on his father’s side — the side that lives in the South Pacific Samoan Islands — had passed away over the summer just several weeks after Tuioti had the opportunity to go and visit.
Despite the adversity that Tuioti has faced over the past year, UNM’s win over NMSU demonstrated that he is simultaneously there for his family while also being there for his team. He described his position in UNM’s football program as "the best of both worlds."
"You can feel the energy from this whole state, this community," Tuioti said. He added that the opportunity to play as quarterback has allowed him to represent his family back at home in a positive way.
Tuioti's full name is Tevakatogia Salanoa-Tuioti. He uses both of his last names to acknowledge who he plays for and to pay homage to his family who have both shared and supported him in his long-time dream to play in the NFL.
As he works toward a bachelors in communications, Tuioti says he wants to be a strong, supportive family member and a dedicated leader to his team.
Dan Goodwin is a freelance news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @dg_5353
Alanie Rael is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllyRael