Defense is a family affair for Tupou brothers, cousin

Updated: October 29, 2003, 2:00 PM ET

ABERDEEN, S.D. -- The Northern State University football team's defense is fast becoming a family affair.

Brothers Maia, Sione, and Kia Tupou are starters on defense for the Wolves while cousin Veaila Tupou is a defensive end who plays a lot. Sione and Kia are defensive tackles and Maia is an outside linebacker. The Tupous have been in on 97 tackles this season through Oct. 25.

"Football brought us here," said Maia, who transferred to Northern last year after playing junior college ball at Sacramento City College. "I played at Sac City and I had some offers, from Nebraska-Omaha and Wayne State, but then (Northern defensive coordinator Jerry) Dominguez called, and he had the best deal for me."

The brothers all hail from Sacramento, Calif., while Veaila is from Hawaii.

Maia, 25, is a 5-foot-10, 250-pound senior; Kia, 20, is a 6-foot, 310-pound sophomore; Sione, 29, is a 6-foot-1, 320-pound junior; and Veaila, 22, is a 6-foot-1, 245-pound sophomore.

After his first year at Northern, Maia recruited his brothers and cousin, all of whom had some years of eligibility left after playing in junior college.

"Our dad said it was a good thing to do -- play football and go to school," Maia said. "So I called my brothers to recruit them for the D-line. It's a sort of a second chance for all of us."

Sione came to Aberdeen with his wife and baby girl. He had been working in construction since 1992, and went to Sacramento City College from 1994 to 1995, where he was a junior college All-American.

"I didn't have the units to transfer, so I stayed at home to pitch in on the bills after our dad's stroke," Sione said. Their father suffered a stroke in 1995, but the brothers said he has been doing well since.

When they arrived in Aberdeen for camp this year, the Tupous didn't have a place to stay. Former Northern running back and current assistant coach Tefua Bloomfield opened his home to them.

"It makes it feel more like home," Maia said of having his brothers and cousin with him.

After all their years playing football, this is the family's first chance to play together.

"I played with our older brother at City College, and now I get to play with my younger brothers," Sione said.

So far it's been a good experience for all.

"I came here to play with these guys," Veaila said pointing to his cousins. "It's fun."

On the field, the brothers and their cousin said they have come to rely on each other during games.

"We know each other, I know what these guys are capable of," Maia said of his brothers and cousin. "It's great, it lets me run free as a linebacker, kind of like (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis."

Defense is actually a fairly new thing for the Tupous.

"We all played running back in high school," said Kia. "All I did was (outrun) people."

Kia said he enjoys the physicality of defense and he likes making the hits.

"It's more exciting when you get a big hit," Maia said. "You can celebrate more."

Dominguez said he loves coaching the Tupous. "They're great kids. Maia's been a leader for us, by example and vocally. Kia and Sione are our two big guys inside and along with Pupi (Toelupe) and Justin (Garland), they fight for control and try to get the big push."

Dominguez said the Wolves have had brothers play together, but three brothers and a cousin was a new experience.

"It's a unique position to be in. They know how to motivate each other," Dominguez said. "They made a good impression from the first time we talked with Maia. It was 'What a bunch of great guys."

Playing together has afforded the brothers and their cousin a chance to bond and to enjoy one of Northern's best football seasons in recent memory. The Wolves are 5-3 overall.

The Tupous and their teammates played their final home game Saturday, losing to Bemidji State 48-42.

Dominguez said the Tupous fit right in and complimented the level of chemistry on the team, "They didn't clash and I think that's all on their personalities."

"Our defense really steps up when the offense starts slow," Veaila said. "It gives the offense a chance to get going."

His cousin agreed.

"When they do their thing and we do ours, no one in the league can stop us," Maia said. "Sometimes when we're on defense we'll speak our language (Tongan) to confuse the other team."

The brothers said their parents supported them through everything they have done in life, especially in football.

"If we needed money, new cleats, whatever it was, our father would work or pull money from his savings to get us what we needed," Maia said. "If it wasn't for them, I don't think any of us would be playing."

They also said they are thankful to the Northern coaching staff.

"We owe a lot to (NSU head coach Ken) Heupel and his staff," Maia said. "This really is our second chance."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index