With both of his massive hands tucked inside his chest pads, Ula Toluta’u stared at the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium in search of an answer. One of the best running backs this season has seen it all and heard it all in this, the twilight of his high school football career.
The East Leopard is as advertised. He’s big — he’s really big. He’s very strong. And he’s quiet. In fact, his teammates describe him as "collected and to himself" on the field.
State championship schedule
Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium
11 a.m. » Timpview vs. East
2:30 p.m. » Brighton vs. Bingham
6:30 p.m. » Desert Hills vs. Pine View
But the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Wisconsin commit found his answer to the question of leading a team everyone is gunning for, a 13-0 team setting state records on offense and leading the state in points per game with more than 51 per outing.
"It gets a little hard," Toluta’u said, his hands still resting inside his chest pads. "We get so much stuff, and we’re the ones that are succeeding. Sometimes the team coming in, you know, they give us crap, but we don’t really use that."
At least they say they don’t.
If there’s one thing any opposing defense doesn’t want to do, it’s to fuel the seemingly serene Toluta’u. As the composed senior running back who sports No. 2 for East, he’s a staple of respect — and talent — in the offense and the program.
"A man of great character and great talent," East linebacker and Stanford commit Christian Folau said. "We always call him our heart and soul of our team because we really look up to him."
And his numbers are superb.
Toluta’u has rushed for 2,344 yards and 30 touchdowns in East’s first 13 games this season. He’s averaging 13.6 yards per carry and is 217 yards shy of Utah’s all-time rushing yards in a season — a 2,561-yard campaign set by Beaver’s Kelly Smith in 1979.
Toluta’u amassed 322 yards on the ground ... on 16 carries in a game against defending 5A champion Jordan on Sept. 6.
"He hasn’t had to carry the rock very much this year," East coach Brandon Matich said. "It’s been 12 carries, 11 carries, 10 carries, six carries, whatever it is, and he breaks off big plays. He’s ready to carry the ball 30 times in a game. He can grind it out with you, and he’ll wear you down."
Toluta’u hasn’t had to grind people down through East’s 13-0 start and now four quarters away from a 4A state title against Timpview on Friday. His carries often result in first downs, large chunks of yardage or touchdowns.
So, how has he done it? Simple.
"Give props to the O-line," Toluta’u said. "I tell them, ‘You open the holes and I guarantee you, us running backs will burst through it.’"
Perhaps no job is made easier by result of the future Badger than for senior quarterback Isaac Valles. East’s signal-caller said nothing makes him happier than dropping back a few steps and holding the football out for you know who.
"He makes the game revolve around him, so it’s really nice," Valles said. "He has the combination of breaking away and trucking you and making you feel like you don’t want to play football anymore."
Or so he’s heard.
Friday’s title game against a talented Timpview front undoubtedly poses the toughest task for Toluta’u and the East offense to date.
"One more game," he said. "Last chapter of the book."
If this chapter is anything like the previous 13, it promises to be a thrill.
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