Mosiah Nasili-Liu mentioned his parents, sitting to his left as he sat at a table, his letter of intent to the University of Washington set in front of him.
The Emerald Ridge High School senior then fought to hold back tears as he thanked them – and the almost 20 other family members in attendance – for getting him to this point, becoming the first from the South Hill school to sign with a Pac-12 school on Wednesday as part of the NCAA’s first-ever early signing period, which lasts until Friday.
This day was the first step in a culmination of events that have shaped Nasili-Liu into a UW defensive end.
“I asked for some personal advice from Vita Vea, (the UW defensive tackle who is expected to be a first-round selection in this upcoming NFL draft) and I asked what the one piece of advice he could give me,” Nasili-Liu said. “And the thing he said was to enjoy the experience. It flies by. So I’m excited for that and I want to take advantage of everything I can at the next level.”
Like having his own bed for once.
He’s one of 15 people living in his four-bedroom house. He shares a room with three of his brothers, sleeping on a king-size bed on the floor with one.
Nasili-Liu, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior, didn’t start playing football until his freshman year at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, California, because his mother was worried about him getting injured – though he said it led to a lot of jokes from his cousins.
He was born in California and his parents are from Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom in the South Pacific islands.
Nasili-Liu’s first scholarship offer came from BYU, but he said that fell off the map because of his struggling academics. Then, in the middle of his best season as a junior at Northgate, his parents decided to move to Washington. His father is a general contractor.
“To be honest, I was very against it,” Nasili-Liu said. “It was super stressful.
“But I’m thankful for it now.”
Because he gained who he said it like a father-figure in Emerald Ridge co-coach Troy Halfaday. He said Halfaday was instrumental in pushing him to better his grades, and he said Halfaday paid for and set Nasili-Liu up to take his SAT.
“I was really slacking,” Nasili-Liu said. “But Troy Halfaday really helped me with that. He was always on me day in and day out with my grades and he has definitely helped put me in this position.
“Just the love and support I see from him, none of it is phony. He’s 100 percent about me and he genuinely cares about me and my family and I adore that – and now there’s this. I just thank Troy Halfaday so much for that because he’s never given up on me.”
They shared a long hug after Nasili-Liu signed his letter of intent.
“That’s what makes coaching so hard, yet so rewarding,” Halfaday said. “Because all the sacrifice and all the time you lay down. Getting his grades up, making sure we’re getting to class on time, being respectful to everyone – from my family to their family we were in this together. And it’s not just with him, it’s with all our kids.
“You get nothing, but, behind the scenes, you get everything – even if it isn’t a paycheck.”
But it started with an impromptu meeting.
Nasili-Liu and his parents walked into athletic director Jesse Kase’s office in the middle of the week, with Emerald Ridge having no playoff hopes and preparing for a Week 9 game against the best team in the league, undefeated Sumner.
His family stuffed themselves into Kase’s small office and said Nasili-Liu was interested in playing football and baseball. And Kase soon after learned the transfer would be eligible to play that night.
“I got on the phone and called the coaches and I was like, ‘Uh, you might have an early Christmas present,” Kase said. “And he hadn’t mentioned he was already getting recruited by some D1 schools. I found this all out later.”
They plugged Nasili-Liu in at nose tackle and Emerald Ridge took Sumner to overtime before losing, 49-42.
“He absolutely tore it up,” Kase said. “Adding Mo to the defensive line was like adding five guys. It was like playing with more guys than we’d ever played with on the defensive line.”
And Halfaday said he could tell right away that Nasili-Liu had Power Five Conference potential. He is the second Pac-12 player Halfaday has helped coach, with former Rogers wide receiver Brandon Gibson being the other. Emerald Ridge opened in 2000.
“It was surreal. Man it was surreal,” Halfaday laughed. “You see a family that comes on the field of their stature and more so the respect the mom and dad had for the coaching staff. They were very genuine and sincere and when you see that humility being displayed across all lines, you know you got something special.”
Nasili-Liu, a TNT All-Area defensive lineman this year, had first committed to Utah in August, but received an offer from UW and decided to flip to the Huskies on Nov. 23 and he took his official visit on Dec. 8.
The appeal to UW was it was closer to home and closer to his family.
“They mean a lot to me and my Polynesian culture – we’re family-based,” Nasili-Liu said. “To be away from them would be a difficult task. It would be easier to stay home and play for an even better program.”
He still has a baseball season to look forward to. But how about dual-sport at UW?
“I don’t know about that,” Nasili-Liu laughed. “I really want to focus on one sport at the collegiate level. So I’ll probably just play football in college.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677