Kahalua Tuitele was born in Seattle but moved to his parents’ native American Samoa a year later.
When he returned to Washington a year ago, Tuitele not only quickly became a star for the Olympia High School football team, earning all-area honors as an offensive lineman, he joined two cousins on the Bears’ roster.
The results have been positive for Olympia, winners of its last two games after a slow start, with a Tuitele in each class. Kahalua is a two-way senior lineman. Keoani is a junior defensive end. Max is a sophomore linebacker who occasionally carries the ball in tough yardage situations on offense.
“They’re from a great football family,” said Olympia coach Steve Davis, who recalls coaching more members of a single family over a period of years, but never three key contributors at once.
Max and Keaoni’s dad, LJ, is a longtime coach in Thurston County Youth Football. Their little brother is in seventh grade, planning to play for Olympia. Another cousin, Jordan Randall, played for Capital a few years back and still another, Peniamina Mapu, is currently a wide receiver and safety at River Ridge.
Getting involved with the sport was natural.
“I was always around football, watching my older cousins play. We used to come to the Oly-Capital Spaghetti Bowl games,” Max remembered. “I fell in love with it at a young age.”
Kahalua’s older brother, Kobe, plays for Allan Hancock Community College in Southern Calfornia. Kahalua visited Washington a few times growing up but had adjustments to make when he decided to stay.
“The weather’s so different. The football is a lot higher quality than in Samoa,” he said. “It was good to have Keaoni and Max on the team. They gave me guys I was used to talking to while I was slowly getting to know my other teammates.”
All three said the experience of playing with relatives is a plus with no real negatives.
Keaoni echoed Kahalua, saying, “It gives me someone close to me I can talk to about the team.”
Max likes the spark sibling rivalry can provide.
“It’s fun competing against them, talking a little trash at home,” he said.
Listed at 6-foot, 340 pounds, Kahalua, known as Ka’a to his friends and teammates, is the biggest of the three as well as the oldest.
“They say big things come in small packages, sometimes big things come in big packages, too,” said Davis. “Ka’a is a dominant lineman in our league. He’s the guy we run all the tough yards behind. He’s playing a lot more defense this year because we had some injuries early.”
Those reps on defense could pay off. As a shorter lineman, Kahalua’s collegiate future could come on that side of the ball, likely for a Big Sky-level program.
“Somebody’s going to get a great find there,” said Davis.
Keaoni, at 5-11, 220, may be the most talented of the three, according to his coach.
“When his motor’s running, he’s an unstoppable force. He’s exciting to watch,” Davis said.
Max, though primarily a linebacker, has scored two touchdowns as a running back. He made an early impression on Davis.
“Max was in second grade, playing for the TCYFL Minors championship. He looked like a Troy Polamalu clone with all that long hair sticking out of his helmet,” Davis recalled. “But what I really noticed was how he was all over the field.
“He grew up in the shadows of this program. He’s only a sophomore, but he makes the calls for us on defense. We knew right away he’d be a starting linebacker for us. He’s a thick, powerful kid. He has that football savvy you can’t coach.”
Keaoni and Max both cultivate a defensive mindset.
“Defense brings out more intensity,” Keaoni, who occasionally plays offensive guard, said. “When I’m defense, I feel more high motor, I can hit harder.”
Max added, “Defense is really fun, flying to the ball and making big plays.”
Meanwhile, as a team, cleaning up their act offensively has the Bears back on track after 11 turnovers cost them their first two games, including Olympia’s first-ever 4A SPSL loss to Emerald Ridge and an almost-upset of powerful Sumner.
“We left two in a row on the table,” Davis said. “The talent is here, the work ethic is here and the attitude is here. There might be a few people who are surprised we won two in a row and beat Bellarmine like we did (34-6), but I don’t think anyone on this field is surprised.”
Davis credits his team’s senior leaders for holding others accountable. Keaoni likes the feeling among his junior class as well.
“We’ve been on the same team for six years, we have a lot trust built in,” he said.
Kahalua said connections with teammates don’t end with his cousins.
“Our team has a strong bond. Everyone’s family around here.”