Commentary

Student body right

Originally Published: January 30, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

David FangupoDavid FangupoRunning back prospect for the University of Hawaii David Fangupo with his mother and stepfather after a high school game last year.

I like it when elephants learn to paint. I like it when the bouncer is the best dancer at the club. I like piccolo solos by women built like bridge abutments.

That's why I like a Goliath named David.

David Fangupo, that is, the new 350-pound running back for the University of Hawaii Warriors.

That's right. A 350-pound running back. And not just some Fridge that plows straight ahead like a runaway grand piano into a pallet of eggs. Six-foot-2 Fangupo is a real running back, with the feet of Chris Brown and the size of Big Brown.

I, and almost a million other people, can't stop watching this clip of Fangupo this season at Kealakehe (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii) High School. We're transfixed by a man that big with 4.9 speed, the equivalent of a four-wheel drive vending machine on roller skates.

We're glued to how he churns ahead with four or five tacklers clinging to him, like remora on a whale. We're astonished by his twinkle toes, like watching a hippo dance an arabesque.

It's a giggle, really, to see a man that big running that fast over that many human beings. You watch the video. Fangupo is pulling away from people who could fit in one of his pant legs.

"When I first started, I didn't want to hurt anybody," says Fangupo, who just turned 18 and didn't play at fullback until his senior season. "But then I just decided it was me or them."

Most of the time, it was them.

In a playoff game this season, one poor safety found himself face-to-face with the full Fangupo and wound up flatter than a pupu platter.

"Afterward, he came up to me and said, 'Dude, why you got to make me look bad in front of my family?'" Fangupo remembers. "But I told him, 'You shouldn't feel bad, brah.'"

Q: After almost 150 years of football in this country, how did somebody finally figure out that maybe the biggest guy should get the football?

A: Rugby.

As a kid, Fangupo was always a Toyota or two over the weight limit to play Pop Warner football, "and that made him sad," recalls his mother, Sikuka Tuivailala."He loved football. But he turned it into a positive by trying rugby."

Behind Fangupo, the Kealakehe club rugby team won the past three state titles in Hawaii. Watching them last season, a light bulb went on over the head of the school's football coach, Sam Papalii.

"I saw his light feet, his bounce, his acceleration, and I couldn't believe it," says Papalii, who had always played Fangupo on the line. "He's so explosive. He's such an athlete. He can dunk a basketball like it's nothing. So I knew if he could get beyond the line of scrimmage as a running back, he'd be a loooooooad to bring down."

[+] EnlargeFangupo Rugby
Paul TuivailalaDavid Fangupo's prowess on the rugby field gave his high school football coach a big idea.

So Papalii put him at fullback, which sounded terrible to Fangupo. "Every lineman is lazy," he admits. "Running the ball is a lot of work."

But it worked. The team already had 5-6, 136-pound Lennox Jones at tailback -- one of the best and tiniest players in the state. Fangupo has lunches bigger than Jones.

They'd run toss sweeps, with Fangupo and their 310-pound guard out front, a 700-pound wall of meat coming at some poor 16-year-old cornerback. Most of the time, he'd just get out of the way.

Even with Jones getting most of the carries, Mount Fangupo ran for 574 yards and eight touchdowns. The touchdowns were usually followed by a gentle toss of the ball to the ref and the picking of some safety out of his cleats. Fangupo even kicked PATs afterward.

"Honestly, I never really got tackled," says Fangupo, whom teammates call The Horse. "I just get tired and fall down."

OK, so he's going to have to work on his stamina and strength, but he could be the next big thing in college football. He was recruited by BYU and Georgia Tech, but Fangupo wanted to stay on the islands. He hadn't heard a word from Hawaii until Tuesday, Feb. 5, when coach Norm Chow called him for the first time and offered him a full-ride scholarship. It was Fangupo's dream.

Chow can't speak about his new Hawaiian Punch yet because Fangupo needs to straighten up a small detail in his academic record before he can officially sign, but I'm praying to all the Hawaiian gods that Chow lets him run the ball.

Fangupo says he doesn't care what position he plays, but can you imagine? The biggest running back in NFL history was probably 6-4, 265-pound Brandon Jacobs, formerly of the New York Giants. Fangupo has 85 pounds on him.

Honestly, who would be able to stop him, besides Fangupo himself?

"When he was a freshman, he would knock boys' helmets off and then go get the helmet and hand it to them, right in the middle of the play," his mom says. "He would get scoldings for that."

OK, so he's a whale. Now he just has to learn to be a killer whale.

This is a big moment for a big kid trying to become a big man. Nobody in his family has come close to finishing college. His mom was recently laid off from the laundry department at the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort on the Big Island. His stepdad is a food runner there. His dad lives in the Bay Area, but "we don't talk much," his son says.

"I want to be kind of a role model for my family and my younger cousins," Fangupo says. "They need somebody to look up to and say, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"

It's a load to carry. But who better than The Horse?

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com