High School Football

He played rugby in Hawaii. Now this Manatee High sophomore is making transition to football

Lined up off the end or at linebacker this season, Samu Vave looks like a seasoned veteran and upperclassman on Manatee High’s football team.

The reality is the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is only a sophomore playing his first year of football.

Of course, football runs through his veins. He has cousins in the NFL.

Yet, Vave, who was born in Tonga in the South Pacific, played rugby until his family relocated to Bradenton during his freshman year. That’s when the transition to football began.

“He’s a natural athlete,” Manatee High head coach Yusuf Shakir said. “He has some natural skills and things, so he’s just getting better and better at his fundamentals and small things and really understanding the game.”

Shakir knew of Vave’s family from his time as head coach at St. Petersburg Gibbs because Vave’s cousin, William Latu, played there.

Vave left Tonga for Hawaii at age 5. He briefly lived in Utah with his cousin, Harvey Langi, who plays for the New York Jets, before moving back to Hawaii and then to Florida, where Vave’s aunt was living.

Look for the crowd to be out in full force at Hawkins Stadium on Friday night when Manatee hosts Largo Pinellas Park in the Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Vave had a cousin, Joseph Lui, already with the Hurricanes, so the adjustment to a new school wasn’t as difficult as it could have been.

The real challenge came to his breathing.

“It was hard for me to breathe when I first got here,” Vave said. “The temperature was just up and down. I just kept pushing myself to work harder.”

Florida’s humidity presented a hurdle he wasn’t used to with Hawaii’s tropical weather, which Vave described as either breezy or cloudy and not heat, heat, heat as it is in the Sunshine State.

Vave said the reason his family moved to Florida was to say goodbye to his grandmother, who had cancer. When she died, she was sent to Hawaii to be buried next to his grandfather.

Vave also lost his father to a stroke in 2014.

“That was hard,” Vave said. “I didn’t feel like going to school ... I just did nothing.”

Head coach Yusuf Shakir guided Manatee to the Class 7A-District 10 title this season. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Added Shakir: “Any time you lose a parent, no matter what age, that’s tough to deal with. On top of that, him having to move and having to adjust to a whole new culture, whole new society, whole new school, just a lot really going on.

“A lot of time people don’t understand really what kids go through, so for him to just kind of be here and go through things, it really says a lot about his resiliency as a person.”

Vave, though, worked through the grief and was at Kahuka High School before relocating to Bradenton and enrolling at Manatee with zero football experience.

“He’s a big athletic kid and he’s just now growing into his body,” Shakir said. “... He’s just scratching the surface.”

Now he’s a young piece on a Hurricanes team aiming for a deep playoff run in Class 7A.

Manatee opens the 7A playoffs against Largo Pinellas Park at home on Friday night as the No. 3 seed in Region 3.

This week’s schedule


Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals

Largo Pinellas Park at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.

Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinals

Braden River at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.


Sunshine State Athletic Conference semifinals

Oviedo Master’s Academy at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.

Previous high school football coverage

Two district champs. A playoff first. And more highlights from 2019 prep football season

Hungry for football: Here’s how Manatee County high school teams get their fill on game days

There’s a new football program in Manatee. Here’s how PCHS is building it from ground up

IMG Academy football is the ‘ultimate student-athlete experience.’ On and off the field

Hammer time: How everyday tool has motivated Palmetto High football team’s perfect start

Maleek Huggins comes from Southeast High football family. Now he’s making name for himself

From 15 losses in row to 3-0 start. Here’s how Lakewood Ranch football is changing its culture

When lightning strikes: What you need to know about how prep football handles bad weather

When it comes to player safety, embracing helmet technology was no-brainer for Manatee programs

Meet the ‘Ice Gang.’ Palmetto High’s four senior wide receivers are as cool as ice

He played at Florida and with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Now Manatee High has him as a coach

Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.