Back Motuapuaka’s Legacy of Leadership

Back To ACC

Motuapuaka’s Legacy of Leadership

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin.  Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page

Andrew Motuapuaka leaves much more than just his name in the record books.

It has been an honor and a privilege to get to coach him on a daily basis. You can learn a lot from people like him, coaches included.
~Justin Fuente

With six total tackles and a tackle for loss, Virginia Tech linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka left it all on the field in his final college game, a 30-21 loss to Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. Dating back to the start of his tenure, one compiling 332 stops, 32.5 tackles for loss, nine turnovers and four defensive touchdowns, Motuapuaka leaves much more than just his name in the record books. Program contributions, for the team captain, are beyond measure.

Scout team to all-conference, Motuapuaka made the most of each of his opportunities, initially overcoming a right scapula fracture the spring of his freshman year to develop into one of the most accomplished linebackers in program history. Motuapuaka also pushed through some personal adversity. Athletic and aggressive, accountable and authentic, Motuapuaka has grown to define the Hokies as much as he led them. His story is a special one. 

It may have taken folks some time to learn the Motuapuaka name; it is now one people will long remember.

"For times like this and questions like that, I wish I was a better linguist," VT head coach Justin Fuente explained of Motuapuaka post-game. "I think the world of the young man, I really do."

Born in New Zealand of Tongan parents, Motuapuaka came to the United States when his family migrated and his father joined the Army. That sense of commitment followed Andrew to Blacksburg as a talented in-state recruit from Virginia Beach. Motuapuaka came to work every day, literally and figuratively carrying the lunchpail for Virginia Tech as the Hokies competed on the big stage, making the 2016 ACC Championship Game. 

On the field and off, Motuapuaka developed into a standard-setter at Virginia Tech, one that will stay as he moves on.

Motuapuaka, playing in his fourth-ever contest, scored a touchdown by recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff against Western Michigan. Three games later, he earned his first start and responded with eleven total versus against Miami. The very next week, Motuapuaka led the team with 14 stops against Boston College. From there, the rest is history.

As a sophomore, Motuapuaka paced Virginia Tech in tackles for loss. He, as a junior, finished first on the team in total tackles. Motuapuaka, as a senior this fall, helped the Hokies peak inside the national top 15. Recruited by the legendary Frank Beamer but finishing his time with Fuente, Motuapuaka won 19 games as an upperclassman. As time went on, he learned to lead by example.

"He doesn't talk a lot, but he works his tail off and he's about the team," Fuente explained. "He's about doing things the right way."

Even as a star, Motuapuaka continued to contribute on special teams, all of the way to the end; fittingly, he played his final college game in Beamer's famed number 25 jersey as special recognition.

What Motuapuaka has done should not overshadow how he has done it. The man who leaves Virginia Tech is not the man who first came. Motuapuaka's maturity has mirrored his rise.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to get to coach him on a daily basis. You can learn a lot from people like him, coaches included," Fuente concluded.

To Virginia Tech, Motuapuaka is sturdy a 6'0'', 235-pound example of what the program is all about. Within the Polynesian community, his contributions have also been recognized; Motuapuaka was named a finalist for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award, an honor which recognizes ability and integrity. He carries his heritage with him with ink on his arm and a spirit in his heart.

In defeat, in Orlando, Motuapuaka walked of the field a winner. He has changed his life and his program for the better. When Motuapuaka met with family and friends after the game, it was, in some ways, a full-circle experience. The turning points along the way have made him the player and man he now is.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports