As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for the Super Bowl, there is a lot of talk about backups. Mostly, the conversation centers around Nick Foles, the backup quarterback who has been filling in admirably for starter, Carson Wentz. Wentz, though, is far from the only Eagles starter who will be missing from the Super Bowl. Also injured are running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and special teams specialist, Chris Maragos. But perhaps the biggest missing piece is 9-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Jason Peters.
Filling in for Peters is Halapoulivaati Vaitai – also known as “Big V.”
Vaitai is no Jason Peters. Peters is one of the top Linemen in the NFL, while Vaitai is just a second year pro; one who wasn’t even selected until the 5th Round of the 2016 draft. Jason Peters knows what it’s like to enter the NFL without much of a pedigree. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. Peters continually encourages Vaitai and reminds him not to let his draft slot define him. But, when Peters got injured in week 7 and Vaitai took his place, that’s exactly what others were doing. Some people wanted Lane Johnson to shift from the other side of the line to play left tackle, because they didn’t trust Vaitai to protect Wentz’s blindside. Others didn’t think to seem it mattered what Coach Doug Pederson did, assuming that replacing Peters with Vaitai spelled inevitable doom for the Eagles season. Even the most optimistic Eagles fans seemed worried. Vaitai sought to prove them all wrong. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer; “I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to prove I belong, that I can hang with these guys. I don’t want to be that guy they say, ‘He was a wasted draft pick.’” I don’t think there’s any way you could call Vaitai a wasted pick. He’s filled in well for the Eagles, helping them make it all the way to the Super Bowl.
When Vaitai first became the Eagles starting left tackle, NJ.com ran a feature about him. They claimed that his greatest strength is his strength. That makes sense for a guy who benched 27 reps of 225 at his Pro Day. But Vaitai has a different kind of strength as well; the strength that comes from knowing the Lord. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer; “I’m religious. I’m playing through Him. There’s a Bible verse my mom recites: Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all this through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.’”
Vaitai is a big, strong guy, and he always has been. When Halapoulivaati and his two brothers, Kevin and William, first registered to play football at Watauga Middle School near Fort Worth Texas, his coach, Joe Ward told Penn Live that he immediately whispered to himself “our team just got a whole lot better.” Halapoulivaati was already 6 feet tall, and his brothers, who were just 11 months younger, were nearly as large.
Their size and strength, however, never went to their heads. Ward tells Penn Live that, even as the Vaitai brothers began to receive attention, they never displayed an ounce of cockiness with their actions. He says that Halapoulivaati rarely spoke out of turn – through really he never spoke much at all, for that matter. Ward says “He was such a respectful kid, and he was very into his family and his faith. The rest, everything else around him in football and all that, was secondary. He was just nice to everyone.” Vaitai is a man a great humility. I personally love the first words of his Instagram; “Don’t follow me. Follow God.”
Because of the strength he has in the Lord, Vaitai lives with a sense of peace. Even when he was a rookie, Penn Live noted that he never appeared “overly antsy or amped.” When he first became a starter, and found himself the center of attention, his humble response was to simply smile and softly say; “I’m not used to this. I’m not used to the cameras and stuff. I guess I got to get used to it.” Even now, as a starting lineman for the NFC Champs, he’s still quiet and humble. Former Eagles lineman Matt Tobin says; “Yeah, he’s a great kid. He just doesn’t say much.”
But there is one place where Vaitai loves to use his voice. In church. Vaitai and his brothers sang in their church choir, singing praises to God. Ward insists that quiet Halapoulivaati has a singing voice that matches his 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame. Ward say; “He probably wouldn’t tell you he’s good singer, but trust me, he can sing.”
As Ward quietly and humbly fights to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia, he will playing for the Lord, from whom his strength comes!