It was a familiar scene at the U.S. Army All-American game for Central High School football coach Shane Hedrick, one he has become accustomed to with his star defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu.
Hours after the game’s final whistle, after nearly all the top high school players in the country left the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, there was Tuipulotu, a University of Washington commit, amongst the fans still signing autographs and showing no indication of stopping.
“He’s the best football player we’ve had here, but he’s a better human being than he is a football player,” Hedrick said. “After the all-star game, he must have spent two hours just signing autographs after all the players left for dinner. That wasn’t shocking for me — that was just Marlon.”
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Being an All-American and one of the top recruits in the nation — the No. 53 player in America, according to Scout.com — Tuipulotu has not changed. He’s still just a small town boy that grew up in a city nestled near the Willamette River.
Fifty miles north, another top recruit from Oregon was going through the joys of his offseason.
Elijah Molden, the No. 151 recruit in the nation per Scout and another Washington commit, came off one of the most difficult seasons in his life. The two-way star missed time with an ankle injury before helping West Linn claim their first Class 6A championship.
“I think me being hurt was the best thing for my team, honestly. Coach (Chris Miller) had a lot of plays with me in it, and when I went down they (West Linn) really found their identity,” said Molden, who is the son of former University of Oregon All-American and NFL cornerback Alex Molden. “It was in the team’s best interest, and because of it, we were a better team.”
Regarded as one of the best cornerback recruits to come out of the state in decades, Molden made the most of his time on the bench before returning to run from 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Lions’ 62-7 championship game rout of Central Catholic in December.
“I sort of had to become a coach on the sidelines and help where I could there,” Molden said. “It gave me a new perspective on the game. A different understanding.”
Both Tuipulotu and Molden are ripe with athleticism and talent, with Tuipulotu showing the physique (295 pounds) needed for college. Molden is a solid commit to Washington, but Tuipulotu, the No. 5 defensive tackle in the nation, is considered a “soft” verbal commit and recently visited USC.
What tips the scales for both is their unflappable character.
“Every leader that I know of are these high-character type of cats,” said Alex Molden, Elijah’s father who serves as West Linn’s defensive backs coach. “Character, that’s huge. That’s the thing you can always fall back on, because that’s the thing that keeps you out of trouble. …And the high character guys, they’re never satisfied. They always want more from themselves.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Washington coach Chris Petersen would make inroads into the Oregon recruiting trail after serving eight years as an assistant at Portland State (1993-1994) and Oregon (1995-2000).
Petersen often preaches a desire to recruit high character kids who can become stewards of the school and community.
“I was just raised like that. I was raised in a Christian household,” Molden said. “I approach every person I meet with ‘I want to make an impact on them.’ Reflect my family and what I believe in. Respect other people and they’ll show you respect back. Good things will happen.”