Ricky Tatu wasn’t sure he wanted to play football at first.
Now the junior defensive lineman for L.D. Bell wouldn’t dream of giving it up.
When he was just a kid, Tatu’s father persuaded him to give peewee football a try. He did, and though he didn’t like it so much at first, he stuck with it, and as time passed he grew to like the sport and even love it.
Then, in 2008, his father passed away after suffering a stroke. They were very close, and Tatu is an only child.
“We won the Super Bowl and then he passed,” said Tatu, a bit misty-eyed.
“Most of the time when I play, I look at the stands and imagine he’s there.”
Tatu is following in the footsteps of his dad, Mato, who played on both the offensive and defensive lines while in high school in California. Tatu believes the better he plays, the more he honors his father.
But he feels he honors his family even more by always being there for his mother, whom Tatu said is at all of his games.
“His last day, he told me to always love my family and always play my heart out,” Tatu said. “He’s an inspiration to me on and off the field.”
Bell head coach Mike Glaze said Tatu is, in turn, an inspiration to his teammates and coaches with his faithfulness to family.
“When you’ve got a kid that understands family and its importance, that does do something for everyone else on the team,” Glaze said. “A lot of our kids are from single-parent homes.”
On the field, Tatu (6 feet, 230 lbs.) would like to play in college. It’s not his main focus as he tries to help the Blue Raiders turn around last season’s 1-9 record, but it is a goal.
He’d like to major in science.
“Mostly chemistry. I love how things mix,” he said with a grin.
To help himself and his team, he has set a goal of 10 sacks or more this season. But his main objective is to play hard, stay positive, and “pick up the team.”
All, of course, which would make his father proud.
Abilene High (3-0) at L.D. Bell (0-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Pennington Field
After being away from home for two straight games – though one was at AT&T Stadium – the Blue Raiders are back home to wrap up non-district play. Meanwhile, this will be the first game outside of the city of Abilene for the Eagles.
Bell is coming off its best defensive performance of the season, taking a 7-0 halftime lead on Midland before falling 17-7. The Eagles, meanwhile, are on an offensive role, having scored 126 points, including 56 in their most recent win over crosstown rival Cooper.
Abilene’s Abram Smith has matched his career high with four touchdowns in each of the past two games, and the Eagles are averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground. The Blue Raiders, likewise, gain the majority of their yards on the ground, averaging 192, led by quarterback Dominique Lawson (236 yards, 2 TD rushing; 246 yards, 2 TD, 3 int. passing).
When Lawson does throw, he has connected with eight different receivers, led by Tacorian Howard (9 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD).
The only other meeting between Bell and Abilene was last year, won by the Eagles 38-12.