South Jordan • Imagine you’re a big-name high school quarterback.
If movies and TV shows have taught us anything, you’re probably the biggest thing going on campus. You’ve earned the adulation of your peers. You’re having fun along the way, especially on the football field, where you dismiss challengers with style and ease.
That all changes when you step on the field against the Bingham defense. All of a sudden, you’re facing one of the best high school defenses in the nation, with three players who have received dozens of Division I offers between them.
You survey the field before a snap. Simote Pepa, all 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds of him, has his head down, ready to bull-rush your formerly trusty center. Pepa’s specialty is knocking offensive linemen into the backfield, causing havoc in both the pass and the rush game. Once back there, he sheds blocks, bringing down quarterbacks and running backs alike.
If you’re lucky enough to evade Pepa, you’re confronted with another imminent danger: Lolani Langi rushing off the edge. Langi — the younger brother of former BYU and current New England Patriots linebacker Harvey Langi — loves to blitz from his outside linebacker position, and frequently finds his target with a combination of speed and elusiveness unique for his age.
If you’re lucky enough to stay on your feet after eluding Pepa and Langi, you’ve got to make the short, quick pass or break out and run. That’s when Junior Tafuna is ready to pounce. Tafuna plays in a more standard linebacker role, but he’s quick to react to the options available. He smartly bursts to the ball to pick off check-down passes, and almost glides laterally to string out run plays and tackle carriers before they can turn the corner.
Pepa, Langi, and Tafuna have been a massive part of Bingham’s back-to-back state titles, and now are the undisputed senior leaders of a team that are trying to make it three in a row.
All three players are in the top 10 collegiate prospects in the state of Utah by any standard: 247Sports has them ranked Nos. 5-6-7, respectively, while Rivals.com has Langi fourth, Pepa fifth, and Tafuna ninth. All three have multiple Power Five offers, and all currently plan to eschew the early December signing period and wait until February to choose their school.
Pepa has offers from 11 schools: Air Force, Arizona, BYU, Navy, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Utah State. Some say Utah is the “heavy lean” for Pepa, but with all of those options, he’s enjoying the process.
“My favorite part is just seeing all of their nice facilities and the nice gear they have,” Pepa said. “How they get along with each other is one of the best things.”
Langi has received offers from nine schools: Boise State, BYU, California, Hawaii, Nebraska, Utah, Utah State, Vanderbilt, and Washington State. By most accounts, he’s leaning to either Utah or Vanderbilt, where family friend CJ Ah You now coaches their defensive line.
Tafuna burst on the scene more recently than Pepa or Langi, and he’s received offers from seven schools: Boise State, BYU, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Utah State, and Washington State. Most expect Utah to land him when the dust settles.
They’ve all been playing football together for the past nine years, they say, starting with little league football to where they are now. When they were on offense, Pepa and Langi would play offensive line, leaving “big holes” for Tafuna to run through.
But being under the bright lights of championship-winning football hasn’t changed their friendship. When they’re not practicing, they’re either visiting each others’ homes or staying connected virtually, playing Xbox games like Call of Duty, Rainbow Six Siege, and Fortnite. Langi says he wants to study computer science at college, and Tafuna is thinking about a job in the tech business after he’s done with football.
Those kinds of long-term relationships aren’t unusual in Bingham football, where kids such as Langi can draw on familial legacies as models for their own work. And those who are the first of their family to play football at Bingham such as Pepa can draw on Bingham’s history of sending talent to the collegiate ranks.
“Those three kids are the byproduct of some of the things that we expect, but they’re also the producers of some of the success that helps us continue to expect those things,” Miners coach John Lambourne said. “It feeds on itself.”
Bingham’s defensive trio didn’t want to put expectations on themselves, though they did say that they dream of finding the success of some of their predecessors. Lambourne noted the recent success of Bingham graduate Star Lotulelei, Harvey Langi, and USC’s Jay Tufele.
“We have a history that we can compare to. This kid was this for us, and now he’s that for them. I’d say that these guys compare very favorably with our other Division I caliber players,” Lambourne said. “I would be really surprised if all three of them don’t have really good collegiate careers.”
Bingham’s defensive trio of Simote Pepa, Lolani Langi and Junior Tafuna are all among the top 10 college prospects in the state and all have received multiple D-I scholarship offers:
Air Force, Arizona, BYU, Navy, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Utah State.
Boise State, BYU, California, Hawaii, Nebraska, Utah, Utah State, Vanderbilt, and Washington State.
Boise State, BYU, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Utah State, and Washington State.
Source: 247Sports, Rivals