Josh Letuligasenoa yanked off his helmet in mid-sprint Monday afternoon and unleashed a primal scream.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Cal Poly linebacker was imploring effort during a training camp drill, pumping the verbal volume and his head gear, his long, bouncy, curly hair tailing him.
“Auuuugh! Make a stop!”
How fitting. If there’s one primary athletic mission for Letuligasenoa, it’s to be a disruptor, a stopper. And the senior and team captain has plenty of motivation.
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Letuligasenoa is making up for a lost season. He sat out the 2015 campaign to shore up a Physics II grade for his degree in industrial technology. He also is competing for family pride. The Letuligasenoa legacy is to play football – at Elk Grove High School and Cal Poly. When teammates insist they’re brothers, the Letuligasenoa clan really means it.
No one works harder in our program than Josh. He cleans 450 pounds in the weight room. He’s relentless. He’s got a great body, a great attitude. And what a great family. Three brothers, and we could use five or six more.
Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh, on linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa
Oldest brother Lefi was an All-Big Sky Conference guard for the Mustangs who graduated in 2014 with a degree in engineering. Josh is the middle brother. Kid brother Noah had a promising redshirt freshman season last fall at linebacker. But he retired from the sport after sustaining his third concussion with the program – and sixth overall – during spring drills.
Cal Poly is honoring Noah’s scholarship. At practice, he can be found on a hydraulic lift filming formations. He also keeps an eye on Josh and ribs him.
“Notice the hair?” Noah asked of Josh. “He’s taking the man-bun thing pretty seriously. No one would ever call it a man bun to his face, but I can.”
After Monday’s practice, Josh lumped his locks into said man bun. He has been growing his hair out for more than a year.
Serious hair also has been a Letuligasenoa family passion. Lefi sports long locks. Noah is working on his hair length but said it is “at an awkward stage, not quite long enough to get into a bun.”
The brothers also look out for one another. Lefi, back in Sacramento on the job hunt, keeps in regular contact with his siblings. Noah and Josh live in the same rented house in San Luis Obispo with two cousins. “Four of us packed into a small house, like Samoan living space,” Noah said.
The brothers and cousins delight in singing, eating and talking faith, family and football. The Letuligasenoa pride, the brothers say, comes from their parents: Maaka and Stacie, fixtures at their games for years. They don’t miss Cal Poly home games, and they lead spirited tailgate parties when the Mustangs play at UC Davis or Sacramento State.
“Last year we played at Davis, and before the game, I could hear the tailgating, the music and cheers,” Noah said. “I thought about running out there to grab a tri-tip or a rib.”
I gave football everything I had. I threw my body into plays. It’s the only way I know how to play.
Former Cal Poly linebacker Noah Letuligasenoa, who retired from the sport because of concussions
As much as it pained Josh not to play last season, he now hurts more for his younger brother.
“It was the hardest thing for me to sit out last season, but I’ve worked harder,” said Josh, who started 12 games for Cal Poly in 2014. “It’s good to be back. Me not playing is one thing, but Noah not playing because of the concussions is hard. I know how much he loves this game.”
Noah discussed his concussions with team trainers and doctors. He and his family then decided it was time to step away before he was carried away.
“It’s for my best interest to stop playing, especially if I want to be healthy in my later years,” Noah said. “I took the news hard. I gave football everything I had. I threw my body into plays. It’s the only way I know how to play. I didn’t know how much of an effect it would have on me, not playing, because you get so used to your days: mornings with weights, class, football practice, meetings. I chose Cal Poly for the degree, and I’ll get that (in communications). But a huge passion and love of mine – football – is gone. I’m trying to find ways to fill that void.”
Noah paused and continued: “I’m honored that Josh is playing in my honor. He’s helping me cope without football, looking out for me, making sure I don’t have too many blues.”
Noah said he has never seen Josh more motivated.
“I know Josh is angry, a good kind of angry, to make up for last season,” Noah said. “He’s the most competitive guy I know.”
Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said the Mustangs are ready to unleash Josh against the Big Sky. Walsh said Josh could be the “most dominant defensive player in our conference” thanks to a blend of strength, speed, aggression and attitude.
“No one works harder in our program than Josh,” Walsh said. “He cleans 450 pounds in the weight room. He’s relentless. He’s got a great body, a great attitude. And what a great family. Three brothers, and we could use five or six more.”