TAYLORSVILLE — It was just a suggestion from a coach he’d always admired that started Dane Leituala thinking he could be something he’d rarely seen in football — a Polynesian quarterback.
“It caught him off guard, but he was very open to it,” said his father, Merv Leituala. “It was really just a suggestion, maybe because he could throw and run at a very young age. He was doing something with (Jordan quarterback Austin) Kafentzis, and he really looked up to Kafentzis. So when coach Pala (Vaitu’u) asked him if he wanted to be a quarterback, he was, 'Like Austin?' There was a lot of that that had to do with it.”
The Taylorsville senior said he’d never considered playing quarterback, even though he played little league football with boys a year older than him so he could avoid being relegated to a lineman because of his size.
“I just followed my brothers,” he said. “One was a running back and one was a linebacker. So I was probably in seventh grade, maybe 11 years old, and Pala said, ‘Hey, do you want to play quarterback?’ That wasn’t even in my mind.”
He gave it some thought and decided to see if he could handle the challenge.
“I like to score, and I thought, the quarterback gets the ball literally on every, single play,” he said laughing at how simplistically he looked at the position as a seventh grader. “You have to know what’s going on with all the positions, and not just on offense. You have to know what’s going on on the defense, and usually, if you lose, the first thing that gets blamed is the quarterback.”
The quarterback is also the face of the team, and the spotlight is not necessarily where Leituala is most comfortable.
“I’m not really that type of guy, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the man,’” he said looking down and shaking his head. “I always give my praise where it’s needed.”
He said it was competing alongside older players that helped him feel comfortable leading on and off the field.
“I just followed their footsteps,” he said.
That path has led him to be one of the most prolific high school quarterbacks in Utah history. In 28 games, Leituala has amassed 6,883 passing yards with 63 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 4,485 yards and 44 touchdowns. His combined 11,368 yards of total offense places him No. 4 on the Beehive State's all-time prep quarterback list, and the only quarterback whose career numbers he can’t surpass in his senior season is the young man who made the position so enticing — Austin Kafentzis.
And like the former Jordan High star, Leituala plays linebacker for the Warrior defense, and he's among the leading tacklers.
Leituala has been so successful that when most of Taylorsville’s starters graduated this spring, many thought he might transfer to a school where he could step in and compete for a state title. His father said he had several schools, in Utah and out-of-state, approach him about transferring.
“He was kind of emotional about it,” Merv said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to follow the Kevin Durant template.’ This is the community that has always accepted and supported me.’”
Taylorsville head coach Pala Vaitu’u said when Leituala's teammates asked about the possibility of leaving, he told them, ‘Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.’ He wouldn’t even talk about it.”
Leituala is a Warrior.
It’s the mascot on his uniform, and it is the way he approaches the game. His teammates said it’s what makes him so tough for defenses to handle, and it’s what makes him a leader for the team’s defense.
“He’s just really good at making reads,” said offensive lineman and fellow captain Hunter Fox. “He’s really patient in the pocket. Most quarterbacks try to avoid getting hit, but he just runs through people.”
Vaitu’u is almost giddy when asked to describe Leituala.
“He just prefers to be on the field,” Vaitu’u said, “every single play. If we would let him punt, he would. … And he’s literally like a coach. As soon as I say something, he’ll finish it. …He’s making his own plays. He just gets out there and works.”
Vaitu’u said he doesn’t understand why Leituala doesn’t have a long list of college offers, especially because he could play so many positions with ease.
In fact, he doesn’t have a single offer. He has several colleges who’ve told them they will offer him or that they’re interested in offering him, but no program has made him a formal offer.
His father said that has, at times, been discouraging, especially when he sees teens that he beats in one-on-ones at various camps getting multiple offers. But Leituala, who is 5-foot-11½ and 225 pounds, is the youngest of five children, and he possesses a rare type of determination and resilience. His football and life experiences have helped him feel confident when other teens might be filled with doubts.
“When you’re the youngest kid, people tend to pick to you, or discount you big time,” he said of his son’s decision to play with older boys so he could play skill positions. “He has developed some thick skin. … And he’s always been a tough kid, and I think it says something when you’re able as a younger kid on an older team, to get playing time.”
A self-described mama’s boy, Leituala said he has goals this season, and while he hopes to earn a college scholarship, he also wants to make his parents — especially his mother, Juliana, proud.
“I admire everything about my mother,” he said. “She gets up early in the morning, and she comes home at 11’o clock at night, and she just does so much for our family. Every day I come out on the field, every time I go into the classroom, I think of her.”
As he tapes his wrists this weekend, he’ll write her name on the tape to remind him of who he is and what he’s working for.
“I have some goals for me personally,” he said. “It’s my last season. I don’t know if I’m going to get another season, so I’m just going to give it everything I have.”