Sione Pouha wasn’t asked to provide a character reference for newly signed fullback Fui Vakapuna, but he easily could have. After all, the two big guys are family.
“Yeah, we grew up together in Utah,” Pouha said in the Jets’ locker room Thursday. “We were little kids in the same neighborhood. We went to the same high school. He’s related to my wife. Even though we’re cousins, we associate like brothers.”
Vakapuna, who was signed Wednesday and worked as a Jet for the first time at Thursday’s OTA practice, confirmed that he and Sione’s wife, Keiti, are second cousins. He also reminisced about the good old days back at East High School in Salt Lake City.
“Sione was there before me. He was already a legend and his class set the stage for the teams that I played on,” Vakapuna said. “We’re a very close family.”
The two share more than childhood memories. Both have gone on LDS missions, Pouha to Pittsburgh from 1998-2000 and Vakapuna to Carlsbad, Calif., from 2004-06.
And both continue their good works to this day. It was just announced today that Pouha and his wife have contributed $50,000 to the University of Utah’s “Invest In Excellence” campaign for the Utes’ new football complex. The alumni locker room in the facility will open for the 2013 season bearing the Pouhas’ name.
As for Vakapuna, he’s been working with his wife, Leonne, at ScenicView Academy, a center for autistic young adults in Provo, Utah.
“It’s kind of the theme of the school, to help others, to give a hand. We give them hope,” Vakapuna told the Deseret News last month. And on Thursday he said, “It was great to work with my wife as well. It was awesome while it lasted.”
That’s because now he’s almost a country away from that gig as he tries once again to get his pro football career off and flying.
It’s been a mission of a different kind of Vakapuna, the 6’0″, 257-pounder who was a seventh-round pick out of BYU by Cincinnati in 2009 and is listed as a third-year pro but has yet to play an NFL regular-season down. He’s spent time with the Bengals, the Cardinals, the Bengals again (spending the entire 2010 season on IR with a shoulder injury) and the Colts before coming to the Jets.
“No, I haven’t had that opportunity yet. You get a little anxious,” he said. “But I was training out in Utah this offseason and working at the academy. I just trained a whole lot trying to get myself right, and I got a call from the Jets. I’m ready if they call my number.”
And this time he’s got family around to help him succeed in this particular phase of his life’s work.
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