MHS alum enjoying life as a Ute, despite Holiday Bowl loss
Feb 05, 2019 03:28PM
● By Carl Fauver
MHS graduate Maxs Tupai and his University of Utah teammates look on anxiously, as Northwestern mounts its second half comeback at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
For only the second time since 1996, the University of Utah football team suffered a bowl game loss on New Year’s Eve, in San Diego.
But the disappointing, rain-soaked, turnover-plagued 31-20 loss only slightly dampened the spirits of eight family members who travelled to the Holiday Bowl together, to cheer on their Murray High School graduate son and brother.
Red shirt sophomore defensive lineman Maxs Tupai said it was a thrill to have his mother and all seven of his siblings at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, even though his Utah team suffered one of its most crushing defeats – blowing a 17-point halftime lead – in program history.
“We are a close family and our roots run deep in Murray,” Tupai said. “I am the second youngest of eight siblings – four girls and four boys – ranging in age from nine to 29. My whole family drove down for the game.”
Tupai is the third of the eight siblings who played collegiate sports, after an older brother played football at the University of Hawaii and a sister played college basketball in Oregon.
This was the third consecutive year Tupai attended a University of Utah bowl game. Two years ago, in his red shirt year, Tupai attended – but did not dress for – the Utes’ 26-24 Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana, in Santa Clara, California.
Then last year Tupai was dressed for Utah’s Heart of Texas Bowl 30-14 win over West Virginia, but no family members could attend.
That made the final day of 2018 special for Tupai, even if the outcome was not what the Utes wanted.
“Northwestern definitely dominated us in the second half and put it on us,” Tupai said. “There wasn’t much for the coaches to say after the game, except to emphasize what we need to do in the off season to become a better team.”
Long before visions of collegiate football danced in his head, Tupai attended McMillan Elementary and Riverview Junior High in Murray.
As a Murray High School Spartan, he played rugby – and a single season of basketball – but his love was on the gridiron.
“I played all over in high school, offensive and defensive line, linebacker, running back and was even the quarterback in the wildcat formation a few times,” Tupai said. “I rarely ever came off the field, which made it a lot of fun.”
Big time college football recruiters took notice early.
“In the summer before my junior year of high school, I was recruited by a lot of schools, including USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and Oregon State,” he said.
The University of Utah was also in that mix, though Tupai wasn’t paying much mind to the Utes.
“I was never planning to go to Utah,” Tupai said definitively. “I did not make a campus visit there and only decided very late in the process to remain closer to home.”
Tupai said he never did feel comfortable enough during the college campus visits he did make to decide to leave home.
Among those visits was a trek to Corvallis, Oregon where he met with the OSU Beavers’ then head coach Gary Andersen.
“I knew when I first met (Andersen), I wanted to be coached by him,” he said. “But it was not enough to get me to go there. I was so happy when it worked out for him to join our team this year.”
Andersen was a defensive line coach and associate head coach last season, before taking the head coaching job at Utah State – for a second time – at the end of the Utes’ season.
Off the gridiron, Tupai is earning his U of U degree with a major in economics and a minor in business. With a 3.075 GPA – and a position on the honor roll – he hopes to one day work as an actuary after hanging up his cleats for good.
Tupai is on track to complete his degree in the spring of 2020. He is also looking forward to his remaining two years of college football eligibility.
“I had high expectations for myself personally this past season and it did not go as well as it could have,” he said. “That – and our loss in the Holiday Bowl – makes me even more determined to work harder this off season.”
Once his four playing years are over at Utah, Tupai doesn’t know whether the NFL or the Canadian Football League will come calling. But, he says, he will certainly entertain those possibilities if they do.
For now, he lives in a University of Utah dorm and misses a girlfriend who is seven months into her mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The Holiday Bowl experience was great,” Tupai concluded. “We visited the San Diego Zoo, toured a Navy battleship and saw a movie. Plus, it was great to have my family there. Losing the game was tough; but everything else was fun.”