Deuce Lutui is going to the Super Bowl. No. 76 will board a plane with his Arizona Cardinals teammates next week. But today, the 2002 Mesa High School graduate stopped by his alma mater to say thanks to a few folks.
Deuce Lutui is going to the Super Bowl.
No. 76 will board a plane with his Arizona Cardinals teammates next week. But today, the 2002 Mesa High School graduate stopped by his alma mater to say thanks to a few folks.
A few hundred of them.
Lutui, a right offensive guard with the Super Bowl-bound team, signed autographs for students, hugged former teachers and coaches, and joined the high school's football players in the traditional "haka" war chant today during lunch. The dance draws its roots from the Pacific island country of Tonga, the same place Lutui tracks his roots.
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"I'm obligated to this town. I owe it to them ... I feel it's my duty," he said. "Growing up here, being drafted in Arizona, is a huge blessing in my life."
As the lunch period started, students gathered in the outside courtyard, crowding around Lutui to get autographs on notebooks, footballs, jerseys and shirts. They filled the grass steps up from the staging area and across the walkway donning signs cheering on the NFC champions.
Junior Clint Wilkins, 16, said he had no doubts about his Cardinals.
"I'm a Cardinals fan for always. I knew they'd do this. I knew this would happen. They have it in them," Wilkins said. "They're a great team."
Members of Mesa's football team gathered the past few weeks to watch the playoffs, and it was no quiet affair, said senior John Luchsinger, 18, a right tackle and defensive end.
"Everyone went crazy jumping up and down" during Sunday's game, Luchsinger said. "I think they can go all the way this year and take it."
Asked about the big game on Feb. 1, Lutui said, "Mickey Mouse, where are you?" referring to the famous phrase, "I'm going to Disneyland," spoken by winning players in the past.
During the festivities, students presented Lutui with leis of candy and flowers, a Mesa High jersey with No. 76 on it and a plaque to honor the team with the Mesa motto: "Carry on."
This was just one of many trips Lutui has made to campus. He comes to talk to the students, offer inspiration, and attend Friday night home games, said Gary Butler, a former offensive coordinator for Mesa.
"I've known Deuce since he was in ninth grade," Butler said. "It's fun to see him. He's still a big kid. He loves the kids. That's why he's here. He sure doesn't forget where he's from."
Mesa head coach Kelley Moore said Lutui's return shows the spirit the school tries to evoke.
"Mesa High School is all about spirit and tradition. Deuce and the Polynesian culture is part of that tradition. Coach (Bill) McKane developed that," Moore said.
McKane was Mesa's coach when Lutui played for the Jackrabbits. McKane retired in May after 31 years of coaching in the district, but like Lutui, he is no stranger to the campus. He was on hand today to cheer on his former player.
"He was as big as a house, and he worked hard," McKane said about Lutui's years at the school. "He was dedicated. He led by example as well as by his athletic ability."
But Lutui and his friends weren't without their antics.
"They would come to my house, Deuce and a few others, and raid my fridge at times," he said.
Lutui's appearance meant a lot to the current students.
"You know how excited the kids were on campus," he said. "He is an inspiration to these kids. He's humble, yet he's successful. He goes out of his way to talk to young people."
Should the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lutui will be the second Mesa High graduate to be on a Super Bowl-winning team with quarterback Kurt Warner. Robert Holcombe did it with Warner in 2000 when they played for the St. Louis Rams.
"I can tell you right now they're going to do it," McKane said. "I believe it with all my heart."