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Super Bowl: Utah prep linemen stage long-awaited rematch

Published January 31, 2013 4:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New Orleans • When rivals East and Highland met in a 2001 high school football game, the rosters included three future NFL players.

Two of them, defensive linemen Will Tukuafu of San Francisco and Haloti Ngata of Baltimore, will play in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII.

Noting the talent on display that night, former East coach Jim Hamblin said, "I didn't appreciate it at the time." That's not to say Hamblin overlooked the abilities of Tukuafu (East), Ngata (Highland) or Fui Vakapuna (East) — just that nobody could have known what they would become.

Vakapuna was the game's biggest star, rushing for 215 yards and three touchdowns in East's 33-14 victory.

Tukuafu and Ngata went on to play for Oregon, although their college careers did not overlap because of Tukuafu's church mission and junior college enrollment. Tukuafu is "one of my all-time favorite kids," said Keeko Georgelas, who coached him as an East junior. "He was quiet, but he loved to play the game."

Signed by Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Tukuafu joined the 49ers last year but injured his wrist early in the season. This year, he actually has played more as a blocker in offensive packages than on defense — relying on his experience as a high school tight end.

Tukuafu is among 18 children of the late Viliami Tukuafu; 14 were born to his first wife, who died in 1968, and four to Will's mother, Ilaise, who still lives in Salt Lake City. Tukuafu and his wife, Krystal, are expecting their first child in two weeks. Her doctor planned to accompany her to the Super Bowl.

Memories of the "Duck"

In his fifth season as a senior offensive assistant on Baltimore's staff, Craig Ver Steeg gained responsibility when Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired his offensive coordinator and promoted Jim Caldwell in December.

"All of us on offense really kind of pitched in together," said Ver Steeg, who had two stints on the University of Utah staff.

As a Ute graduate assistant in 1987, he was acclaimed as a co-inventor of the "Duck" formation, a radical spread scheme. "It was fun to be associated with that, I guarantee you," he said.

Ver Steeg also is connected to a less favorable slice of Ute history, as the team's offensive coordinator in 2001. A miscommunication resulted in quarterback Lance Rice's running out the clock with the Utes in field-goal range in a one-point loss at Air Force.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com