May 11, 2011

Hafley's take on the commitment of 'Big V'

Haltom City (Texas) offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai became Texas Tech's sixth commitment of their 2012 class in late April. In Vaitai the Red Raiders picked up a guy who has manned the blind-side for Haltom City head coach Scot Hafley the last two years.

"He'll be our three year starter at left tackle this year and of course there's not a more important position on the offensive line than the one protecting the blind-side of the quarterback. His sophomore and junior year we had a strong quarterback who threw the ball quite a bit, and it was nice to have V's long arms and long legs on the left side," Coach Hafley said. "We've actually transitioned into a pretty strong running game this year because of some of our personnel changes. So he's having to adjust and do some new things there, which I believe will help make him a more complete player. He's always been tremendous as far as how quick he gets off the line of scrimmage and how fast he can get down field on the backside of a zone scheme. He can take out a couple of linebackers when he does that, and if you've seen any of his highlights you'll see that some of our best gains on the ground actually happen when we run away from him and then cut back behind him."

Hafley mentioned that a step-up in competition has allowed Vaitai to focus more-so on his fundamentals, as opposed to relying solely on his size and strength to dominate the line of scrimmage.

"There are a couple of things we're working on with him right now. He's got to learn to play with a little wider base and he needs to work on playing a little bit lower."

"We've moved into a very competitive district now which has been good for him. Most of his life he's been able to shove people around and now that we've gotten into some really good competition this last year he's realizing that he's got to improve his fundamentals," he said. "He's worked really hard this spring to do exactly that. I've been very pleased with what I've seen from him the last three and a half weeks of spring football."

As one of the leaders of his team, Coach Hafley indicated that Vaitai has a "switch" of sorts. That switch is consistently turned on and off as gamedays come and go.

"He's a team player and really kind of a jokester is the way you would describe him. He's just a fun-loving guy. He plays his rear end off during the games and he's as physical as any lineman we have. He can have that mean-streak just like you want in an offensive lineman, but that personality really only comes out during the games," Hafley said. "During practice and in the locker room he's as popular a guy as we have on our team. Our teachers at school really like Big V and he's just an all around good person. He's a fun guy to be around. He definitely has a lot of the intangibles that college coaches want to bring to their program in regard to character and personality."

Texas Tech assistant coach Sonny Cumbie was the primary recruiter of the 6-foot-6, 256-pounder. Apparently there was some ground to be made up as Tech didn't start out at the top of Vaitai's list.

"Obviously Coach Cumbie did a really good job of establishing a relationship with Big V right from the start," Hafley said. "I don't know that Texas Tech was necessarily his family's favorite school from the beginning. They were really liking TCU and Baylor, and I think his parents liked those two because they're a little closer to home. After they made the first trip out to see a game last fall, though, he came back really excited about their program and that led him to make an unofficial visit this spring."

"When it comes down to it, I think he was really comfortable with the coaches, and he really liked the college atmosphere that Lubbock has to offer. I think he was kind of sold on the fact that out in Lubbock it's Texas Tech, and Texas Tech only. There's nobody else that's going to get more attention and support than the Red Raider football team. I think he really enjoyed that aspect and I know he's looking forward to spending the next few years there."

With offers in hand from programs in the Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC, it was clear that Vaitai was becoming a hot commodity. Coach Hafley provided reassurance that Texas Tech would be the only school in the picture moving forward, indicating that the lines of communication have been cut off with all others.

"That's not the way we operate and that's part of the deal here. Once a kid commits, we're not taking mail and we're not taking phone calls or other things like that from any other schools. Big V, his family, and I spent several days talking about his decision. After he first told me that he wanted to commit we probably spent another three days discussing everything," Hafley said. "We made sure he understood that if USC, for example, were to show up down the road we weren't going to talk to them. I feel like if a kid wants to make a commitment to a school he needs to be 100% sure about it. So I'm quite certain that there won't be any schools with a shot at taking Big V away from Texas Tech."

Aside from Tech, Vaitai also holds offers from Arizona, Arkansas, Houston, Kansas State, Missouri, TCU, Texas A&M, and Utah.

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