Vanderbilt feels right at home for Lealao

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 - 6:54 pm

It hit Nifae Lealao he really wasn’t that far from home, in a spiritual sense, when he landed in Nashville, Tenn., last weekend. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Capital Christian High School defensive lineman was greeted by scores of well-wishers on his recruiting trip to Vanderbilt – players, coaches and campus staff – as he narrowed his choices in the 11th hour of the national recruiting season. But it was a phone call from the contemporary Christian music group The Katinas that really struck a chord.

The band consists of five brothers who are natives of American Samoa, like Lealao’s family, and they assured the senior his voice and his football prowess have their attention, too. And that was added music to Lealao’s ears. He savors a good tune as much as rushing the quarterback. The area’s top recruit was also wowed by Vanderbilt’s music and business departments and, of course, its upstart football program, and that’s what moved him to choose the Commodores on national signing day on Wednesday morning in front of students, faculty, family and media at Capital Christian. “I felt a super connection with the team, the coaches, a bond, and then The Katinas made it even more special,” said Lealao, whose longtime family friend Jason Harper, founder of Character Combine, is closely associated with The Katinas. “It’s a great school, and I’m so excited. Now I can relax and chill a little more.” Lealao also formed a bond with Vavae Tata, a former Stanford defensive-line coach who initially recruited Lealao to play with the Cardinal. Tata was recently hired to the same post at Vanderbilt. “It’s a great Polynesian connection with coach Tata, and that’s big in our culture,” Lealao said. “I already call him uncle.” People generally call Lealao gifted. Regarded as a four-star recruit, Lealao is also a superb basketball player for The Bee’s top-ranked team. But Lealao is more more than just an athlete. He’s a 4.3 student whose passion is fashion, design and music. He loves to sing. He used to entertain his parents, Nifae Sr. and Mary, by belting out tunes from the back seat of the car as a toddler, and he has moved crowds to tears with performances. Lealao dreams of creating a clothes line, singing the national anthem on a big stage and, of course, helping Vanderbilt win. “Singing, that’s my sanctuary,” said Lealao, who will have a double major in music and vocal performance and business entrepreneur. “And football is my release, to release aggression and to compete. I love it all.” Capital Christian coach Phil Grams said Lealao is a “once-in-a-lifetime young man and athlete. As a player, he’s still untapped potential. He’ll only get better.”

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

Read more articles by Joe Davidson

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