JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pac-Five's Aaron Tipoti has scholarship offers from Hawaii and Arizona, among others.
Tipoti’s back with ’Pack
EVERYONE seems to agree Pac-Five defensive end Aaron Tipoti is destined for great things. Destiny, however, had a funny way of getting Tipoti the memo.
The senior at Word of Life Academy was a largely unproven entity until this season for the Wolfpack because injuries left him sidelined for much of his sophomore and junior campaigns.
He fought through a severe knee sprain and two broken ankles and played in just five games his first two varsity seasons. That included a single game last season against Kamehameha before he almost instantly was re-injured when a player rolled into his right ankle.
But for the first time in three years, Tipoti is healthy during football season, and is determined to make up for lost time.
"I've been cursed with injuries every year," the 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive lineman said. "It was a real downer for me, but I always try to look on the bright side: I'm still here. I try not to take it for granted because I didn't have this luxury of playing these games in a row."
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He hit the summer camp scene hard, partly due to his lack of game film and largely to ease a restless conscience. In the process, he garnered interest from Hawaii, UNLV, San Diego State and Arizona. A scholarship offer is on the table from each, but Tipoti won't worry about that until the Wolfpack's season is over.
In the team's first five games, coach Kip Botelho already sees a large impact with Tipoti's presence, noting that teams will run offensive plays away from him, and often send double-teams his way to buy extra time.
"His upside is tremendous," Botelho said, calling the senior a defensive leader.
He's slotted Tipoti on both ends, as well as on the interior, depending on what the situation demands.
Evolving on the fly is something the Kalihi native is accustomed to. Tipoti started off as a receiver as a freshman, then a linebacker, and finally a lineman as he packed on an extra 15 to 20 pounds each year. This wasn't due to lack of exercise -- Tipoti simply kept growing, something he considers "mind-boggling."
On the downside, his game experience was about as consistent as the mist drifting in and out of Manoa Valley, occasionally descending on the Pac-Five players at the Mid-Pacific Institute practice field.
Naturally, his teammates have given him considerable grief about his time away.
"Usually every game they tell me, 'Oh, stay up, stay low, play hard, don't get lazy,'' Tipoti said with a grin. "They get on my back, but it's cool, man. I know they're trying to support me."
"Yeah, we used to tease him. He got from skinny to fat, basically," said linebacker Adam Hom, laughing under his helmet at the Wolfpack's practice. "But now, he's shown up, so ... Yeah, pretty much can't anymore. He's done his job."
Ironically, Tipoti has been regularly healthy during basketball season for Word of Life, something he excels in along with discus and shot put on the track and field team.
Pio Sagapolutele, an eight-year NFL veteran out of Pac-Five who played with the Patriots, Browns, and Saints from 1991 to 1998, sees a bit of himself in Tipoti. He's donated some time to assist the Wolfpack players with pointers at practices.
"What I see is a toughness, the reckless abandon style of playing," said the Maryknoll graduate and San Diego State alum. "Like I always tell Aaron, when I was at that age, I was only 190 (pounds). But the thing that I had was toughness, and that's the thing that he has. And the quickness and all the attributes you need for a D-I defensive lineman."
More importantly, though, what Sagapolutele sees is high character and humility.
"When you approach things in that manner, usually good things happen for you down the road," he said. "Keep your head on your shoulders."
Tipoti intends to do just that -- as well as making sure everything else remains intact, too.