COPPERAS COVE — Before moving on, Caleb Tuiasosopo wanted to return to his roots.
The 6-foot-3, 248-pound linebacker recently achieved a longtime dream by accepting an offer to play football at SMU, and when it came time for his signing ceremony, Tuiasosopo knew exactly where he wanted to hold the event.
He wanted to go home.
On Thursday afternoon, the former Copperas Cove standout returned to his old campus, where he made his intentions to become a member of the Mustangs football team official, signing his letter of intent at Bulldawg Gymnasium in front of numerous friends and family.
“I was always told that if I push hard, I’ll make it one day,” the 2011 graduate said. “That day is today. So, I wanted to come back and show my appreciation for all the staff and coaches. I appreciate all they’ve done for me while I was growing up here and the support they gave me as I was going through some adversity.”
Tuiasosopo tore his left ACL twice while with the Bulldawgs, missing virtually all of his junior season and part of his senior season, but he was determined to play the game he loved.
As a junior, he played two games before his first knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season following surgery. Then, on the eve of opening night of his senior year, he suffered an identical injury, but refused surgery and played through the pain for the entire district schedule, earning a spot on the all-district first team defense.
His drive endeared him to longtime Bulldawgs head coach Jack Welch.
“He had two ACL (injuries) and continued to fight back,” Welch said. “He would rehabilitate and fight back. He played extremely well for us, and he was a great leader, good student and did all the right things.”
But the obstacles did not subside after committing to Tyler Junior College. Following an impressive freshman campaign, a third ACL injury — this time to his right knee — sidelined him once again, causing another season to pass him by.
Deep ties to game
For someone with deep ties to the game of football, not participating was almost unbearable.
“I love the game with everything I have,” Tuiasosopo said. “My dad played Division I football at Washington State University, and we have a lot of athleticism and football going on in our family. It is just in our blood.”
Additionally, his cousin, Marques Tuiasosopo, spent eight seasons playing quarterback in the NFL for the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, and currently is the interim head coach at his alma mater, Washington.
After making 87 tackles and helping the Apaches achieve a 9-2 record this season, including a 47-21 victory in the Football Capital of Kansas Bowl, Tuiasosopo intends to leave his mark at SMU during his final two seasons of eligibility.
“It is a lot to take in right now,” he said. “I’m used to junior college life, but Division I is a real big venue, and (SMU) has a real nice campus and real nice facilities down there, so I’m excited to go.”
Welch is equally pleased to see a former player receive such a big opportunity, but he feels privileged to know Copperas Cove remains important to Tuiasosopo.
“With this being our first (junior college player returning to campus for a signing ceremony), I’m very proud that he would think enough of Copperas Cove and think enough of our program to come back and do this,” Welch said. “It is a great honor.”