Oct. 2, 2012
By Eric Dezendorf
The athletic department at the University of California has had its share of families in its storied history, and adding to that tradition is the story revolving around Aaron Tipoti.
Tipoti, affectionately called A.T. by his teammates, is the lone returning starter to the Golden Bear defensive line. After last year's campaign where he recorded a career-high 25 tackles, Tipoti is ready to be the elder statesmen and one of the leaders on Cal's defense.
"It was fun," Tipoti said when asked about starting last year. "It's great. It's a lot of pressure, but it comes with the territory. If you want to be the leader of the team, you've got to be able to produce mentally and physically, as well."
The six-foot-two, 280-pound senior hails from the island of Oahu in Hawaii. He played his high school ball at the Word of Life Academy. After playing quarterback his freshman year, Tipoti gradually moved over to the defensive side of the ball.
"Every year after that, I gained 25 pounds," Tipoti said. "So sophomore year I moved to outside linebacker and a little bit of middle linebacker. My junior year is when I started playing on the line as an end."
Cal recruiters noticed Rivals' No. 7 overall recruit from the state of Hawaii and his blend of speed and power. Once he arrived at Cal, he quickly became part of the rotation on the defensive line. Tipoti, however, did not have his heart set on Cal from the start.
"I didn't know much about Cal," Tipoti said. "I had a cousin, Abu Ma'afala who played defensive line here. I came here off the guidance of my parents. They thought that the school was the best fit for me. I'm glad I came here. It's a perfect fit, and my sister lives out in Hayward, so I get a little taste of home every time I go there."
Home means a lot to Tipoti, and family is paramount. Coming to the lively, fast-paced city of Berkeley from the laid back island of Oahu was not the easiest adjustment. However, having his sister so close has been a huge help. It is not only his sister that he gets to see; other members of his family have gotten to see him play during his Cal career as well.
"My dad actually flies out for the whole season," Tipoti said. "He stays out in Hayward with my sister. It's always great. He's always sitting at the 50-yard line. So anytime I feel any kind of pain or injury, I just look up at that 50-yard line and there he is, giving me strength."
Tipoti has extended his family beyond merely blood relatives during his time in Berkeley. As Tipoti adjusted to Berkeley life he grew his family to include his teammates. Although he played the younger brother role under the tutelage of Cal greats and current NFL standouts like Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, he is ready to be the next patriarch of the team.
"It makes me feel comfortable if I can look around and feel that I'm at home with my family," Tipoti said. "If I can be a brother or some kind of elder to approach for advice, it's great. I feel that the family atmosphere is a far better working environment."
Fellow senior defensive lineman Kendrick Payne agrees. Payne plays alongside Tipoti on the defensive line and the two share a friendly competition to see who can be the better performer.
"From day one when A.T. got here, we had a connection," Payne said. "A.T. is a big part of why I'm still here and why my game has developed like it has. Every day, every time we step on the field he's pushing me and motivating me, and I feel like I do the same for him."
The results have shown. Tipoti looks very comfortable around his football family, and his talent has earned him for a spot on the watch list for this year's Outland Trophy, the award for the nation's top interior lineman. But Tipoti does not care too much for awards or accolades. This season is only about the bigger picture.
"I want to be the best I can be and help my brothers, my team, reach their potential."
Family matters most to Aaron Tipoti, and because the Golden Bears are a part of his family, he is going to nurture, lead, and advise his brothers as best as he can.