‘Baby Hulk’ is not to be taken lightly

340-pound Tu’ufuli anchors stingy Riordan defense

Errol Tu’ufuli swears people consider him gentle giant.

But then Riordan’s 6-foot-1, 340-plus-pound junior defensive tackle gets that mischievous grin on his face and starts talking about the most efficient way past the man in front of him on the football field and suspicion starts to surround that statement.

“Oh, I just try to kill the guy in front of me, run right through him,” said Tu’ufuli, describing his mentality once the ball is snapped. “A straight-up bull rush.”

Tu’ufuli’s path of least resistance has cleared the way for a number of big plays this season for Riordan (3-2 overall, 1-0 West Catholic Athletic League). The Crusaders enter today’s 7 p.m. showdown against St. Ignatius (3-1-1, 1-0) at Kezar Stadium with the WCAL’s top-rated defense in yards (177.4) and points allowed (10.0) per game.

The typical role of a defensive tackle is to take on as many blockers as possible, freeing up linebackers to make plays. But the mountainous Tu’ufuli has been so tough to slow down, he’s actually leading the Crusaders in tackles with 32.

“He’s 360 pounds and he carries it well — it sounds weird to say that, but he really does,” Riordan coach Mike Langridge said. “He’s a lot more active than you’d expect a guy his size to be.”

And if 32 tackles seems a little bit low to be leading a top defense, Langridge has the explanation.

“We’ve been getting a lot of three-and-outs this year it’s been hard for the guys to rack up stats,” the first-year coach said. “And the tackles are really spread out. It’s going to be tough for any of these guys to finish with 100.”

Tu’ufuli’s gravitation toward football was natural for someone of his size and pedigree. His father, Cheyenne, was a running back and linebacker who played at San Jose State, and Errol was enrolled in Junior Professional Development football camps from the time he was in sixth grade. He grew up playing flag football, but he couldn’t play tackle in a league until entering Riordan as a freshman. He was simply too big.

Now, that size, power and surprising speed (Tu’ufuli runs a 5.5-second 40-yard dash) is front and center on a dominating defensive line that also features ends Maurice McClure (6-3, 260) and De La Salle transfer Louis Baltazar.

“It’s an honor for me to play with those guys,” Tu’ufuli said. “We’re brothers.”

The trio has been putting the pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season, as McClure and Baltazar have combined for six sacks and caused rushed, errant throws on several of free safety Daniel Cannon’s team-leading six interceptions.

“Other teams see those guys and are intimidated,” Cannon said. “That’s where our success is coming from. They have to double-team Errol and can’t stop those guys.”

And Tu’ufuli is going through more than the opposition. The player known by teammates as “Baby Hulk” has already ripped through three practice jerseys and broken multiple pairs of cleats (an issue, because the size 15EEEs he styles aren’t easy to replace).

Tu’ufuli dreams of playing one day in college and the NFL and Langridge says he has already been contacted by some collegiate scouts. But for now, Tu’ufuli is content with his prominent role at Riordan.

“The defense rests on me stopping the run,” Tu’ufuli said. “And even if I don’t make the tackle, I know someone else will.”

melliser@examiner.comOther Sportssports

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