That began a relationship that led to an official visit to Tech in June. At a dinner on the visit, he spoke with running backs coach Tashard Choice, who had come to Tech after two seasons at North Texas. Choice knew two of Vaipulu’s cousins who were at North Texas.
“I had to know him more, and once he told me about how he understood the family, like my culture and me, it just really stood out to me about him,” Vaipulu said. “I talked to my cousins, Manase and Sosaia (Mose). They said coach Choice, ‘He’s just something else. He’s different. He’s one of those rare breeds of coaching.’ I’m like, yeah, I can see that.”
Dixon and Choice presumably don’t have a mutual connection with every prospect in Texas like they did with Vaipulu, a thick-bodied three-star prospect who committed to Tech in October and is expected to sign with the Yellow Jackets during the early signing period in two weeks. But if it’s any indication, it bodes well for coach Geoff Collins. With Choice and Dixon leading the way, Tech plans to continue to recruit Texas in hopes of delivering more players like Vaipulu.
“That really put a smile on my face, just knowing they’re going to come back and recruit Houston harder,” Vaipulu said.
Dixon grew up in Houston and has long recruited Texas. Choice has his two years that he spent at North Texas, one as a quality-control assistant and the second as a running-backs coach. Undoubtedly, his four seasons playing running back for the Dallas Cowboys can’t hurt.
It won’t be easy. In the tenure of former coach Paul Johnson, Tech stuck largely to Georgia and contiguous states, as staff had connections and geography was less a factor in convincing prospects to come to Tech. And, actually, of the 22 players committed to the 2020 class, Vaipulu is one of only two prospects not from Georgia or a bordering state. Collins’ first priority will be Georgia.
But, Texas is a talent-rich state, and if the Jackets can establish a foothold there, the dividends could aid Collins’ efforts. Their success rests on finding prospects like Vaipulu willing to travel farther for college. He chose Tech over Houston, Nebraska, Missouri and Boston College.
“It was either stay home or just go,” Vaipulu said.
Willing to leave Texas, Vaipulu was won over at Tech by the atmosphere around the team.
“The thing that really stood out to me is that the first priority is family,” said Vaipulu, who is of Tongan descent and whose first name is pronounced “pah-oo-lah.” “And just knowing that, the fact that they’re so player-driven, the fact that they want to get to know us not as a player but as a person really stood out to me.”
Not including former Tech guard Parker Braun, who grew up in Florida but played one high-school season in the state of Texas, Vailpulu would be Tech’s first high-school signee from Texas since 2009.
Vaipulu, 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, is rated the No. 764 prospect nationally (247Sports Composite) and the No. 104 senior in the state of Texas. He is rated 10th among Tech’s 22 committed players.
A highlight video shows a lineman with a brawler’s ferocity, including several plays in which the opponent that Vaipulu was blocking ended up flat on his back.
Vaipulu said that, as a sophomore, he took an unofficial visit to Texas (he has another cousin who played for the Longhorns). Vaipulu noticed that he was just as big as some of the Texas players and realized he had the potential to achieve similarly.
“When football came around 11th grade, I started playing more aggressive,” he said. “I became really nasty.”
Vaipulu can play center, guard and tackle. His size may peg him for center. Given the shortage of depth on the line, it’s conceivable that he – or others among the seven offensive linemen who have committed – could play next fall. Vaipulu said he won’t assume anything and will come to campus next summer knowing he will have to work hard every day for offensive-line coach Brent Key.
“He’s just an all-out great person, has a plan for Georgia Tech, and I’m ready to take on that plan with him and just keep working with him,” Vaipulu said.
And if more Texans show up on the roster in years to come, all the better for him.