Updated March 17, 2020
On March 16, 2020, the Detroit Lions signed offensive tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a 5-year $50 million contract.
It has left many people asking the same question: “Who is this guy?” Having only started 4 games over the past 2 seasons, that’s a fair question.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a 5th Round Draft Pick, selected out of TCU in 2016. Vaitai came to the Eagles as a part of a draft day trade that sent Brandon Boykins to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was seen as a bit of a project and was not expected to see much playing time right away, however injuries paved the way to get Vaitai on the field for 37% of the Eagles snaps that season. In 2017, he was supposed to be headed back to the bench.
2017, however, only saw the injuries bug bite the Eagles with sharper teeth than it had the season before. After a strong start left Eagles fans dreaming of achieving their first Super Bowl victory, everything began falling apart. They lost their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker, Jordan Hicks, and special teams specialist, Chris Maragos.
But perhaps the biggest blow was when they lost the then 9-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Jason Peters.
Vaitai was no Jason Peters. Peters is one of the top linemen in the NFL while Vaitai was just a 2nd year player. The striking similarity, though, was that neither entered the NFL with much fanfare. While Vaitai was a 5th Round Pick, Peters was never drafted at all. The two linemen bonded over that similarity, as Peters encouraged the young man not to let his draft slot define him.
When Vaitai took over for Peters in Week 7, however, that’s exactly what people did. Some called for right tackle, Lane Johnson, to move to left tackle to protect Wentz’s blind side. Other’s didn’t seem to think it mattered what Coach Doug Pederson did, assuming that Peter’s injury spelled inevitable doom for the Eagles. Even the most optimistic Eagles fan seemed to lose hope.
Vaitai sought to prove them all wrong. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer; “I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to prove that 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.'” The man known as “Big V” proved everyone wrong, filling in admirably for the Eagles and helped anchor the Eagles offense all the way to their eventual Super Bowl victory.
When Vaitai first became the Eagles starting left tackle, NJ.com ran a feature about him. They claimed that his greatest strength was… well… his strength; which is not unsurprising for a man who benched 27 reps of 225 lbs. at his Pro Day. But Vaitai has a different kind of strength as well; one which he says 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 things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.”
Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a big, strong guy. He always has been. When he and his two brothers, Kevin and William, first registered to play football at Watauga Middle School near Fort Worth, Texas, his coach, Joe Ward was thrilled. He 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 two brothers – who were just 11 months younger – were nearly as large.
Their egos, however, never grew to match their enormous stature. Ward recalls that even as the Vaitai brothers began to receive attention they never displayed even an ounce of cockiness with their actions. He says that Halapoulivaati rarely spoke out of turn. In fact, he rarely spoke at all! 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.” To this day, Vaitai is a quiet man with impressive humility. The first words of his Instagram page bear the motto; “Don’t follow me. Follow God.”
It was Week 7 of the 2017 season. The quiet and humble Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped onto the field for the Philadelphia Eagles to replace a future Hall of Famer and to protect the new franchise quarterback who had his eyes set towards leading the team to the Super Bowl. It was a pressure-filled situation.
Vaitai credits his faith for giving him a sense of peace. Vaitai’s calm in the midst of pressure had left an impression on scouts and teammates alike from the bery beginning of his professional career. Penn Live noted that, even as a rookie, he never appeared “overly antsy or amped.” When he first began to fill in for Peters and found himself to be the center of attention, his humble response was to simply smile and softly say; “I’m not used to his. I’m not used to the cameras and stuff. I guess I got to get used to it.”
In that way, not much has changed since Vaitai’s middle school days. He’s remained humble and soft-spoken, even as he began putting together a successful NFL career. Former Eagles teammate Matt Tobin described him by saying; “He’s a great kid. He just doesn’t say much.”
Their is a place, however, where Vaitai finds it impossible to stay quiet. Church. Vaitai and his brothers sang in the church choir, singing praises to God! Ward insists that the soft-spoken lineman has a singing voice that matches his 6’6″ 320-pound frame. Ward insists; “He probably won’t tell you he’s a good singer, but trust me, he can sing.”
When the 2020 NFL season begins, Lion’s fans may never hear that beautiful singing voice. But they will see a gentle, humble, soft-spoken man who works hard and is a great teammate.