Prep football: LB Tai leads Riverton's defense

Prep football • The Silverwolves defense hasn't allowed more than 23 points in a game this season.
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Riverton • A few hours before last week's game against Kearns, Riverton senior linebacker Albert Tai asked to spend his physical education time in the coaches' office.

Not to review film of the Cougars or talk about the game plan for the evening.

No, Tai had his nose in a calculus book, studying for an upcoming test.

This is Riverton's ferocious middle linebacker?

Aggressive, tenacious and angry on the field, Tai is studious, unassuming, cordial off it.

"We have a saying, that we 'Flip the switch,'" Tai said after the Silverwolves' dominating victory last Thursday. "Off the field, we are going to be gentlemen and hitting the books.

"But when we step on the field, there's no friends. The field is the only place where it's legal to really hit someone. We take advantage of that."

Tai personifies the Riverton way, the attitude coach Mike Miller demands of his players. Tai proved a quick study when he joined the program a year ago after transferring from Liberty High in Henderson, Nev.

Riverton's rigorous conditioning program and structured conduct expectations were a jolt to Tai's system.

Miller "has changed my life," said Tai, who stands 5 foot 10 and is a better-conditioned 210 pounds. "He took me under his wing and said, 'Little guys like us have to stick together and just trust our reads.'

"I quickly learned the Riverton way — tempo, tempo, tempo. I dropped from 215 [pounds] to about 190 by the end of the season. It was all running. Lots of sweat."

He became a starter at outside linebacker in his first season at Riverton and moved to middle linebacker this season. Though not as tall as most of his counterparts around the state, Tai never has let a lack of size slow him down.

Tai leads a defense that hasn't allowed more than 23 points in a game and one that has held two of the top teams in the state to season-low point totals – Herriman (22) and Alta (19).

"I may be the smallest guy, but I'm not afraid to strap up and go against anyone," Tai said. "Everyone's going to be bigger than me. I just have to put in the work at practice and do whatever it takes to be one step ahead of my guy."

Football is in Tai's blood. His brother Sam is a redshirt defensive end at UCLA, and his father Taani is an assistant coach at Riverton. Two of Tai's cousins are Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and former BYU fullback Fui Vakapuna.

Miller said Tai stacks up with the best linebackers he has worked with during his 28 years of coaching.

"This guy hits like an NFL guy, like a college player," Miller said. "He's one of the best I've been around. … I think he can play LB at [the college] level. I just think someone's got to give him a chance and overlook the height. If they do that, they will see how great he is.

"I know he can play at the D-I level."

Tai said playing in college definitely is a goal, and he has received feedback from schools concerned about his size.

Tai, who also plays blocking tight end and fullback for the Silverwolves, thinks a switch to the offensive side of the ball may be in his future to play in college.

"I'm just keeping my options open," he said. "I've had a lot of scouts come talk to me and they've all said just keep working, we'll see what we can do." —

Tai file

Riverton senior linebacker Albert Tai is in his second year as a starter after transferring from Liberty High in Henderson, Nev.

Tai has one interception this season, in Week 4 against Alta, and leads a Silverwolves defense that held the Hawks and Herriman to season-low point totals.

Tai's brother Sam plays defensive end at UCLA and two of his cousins are Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and former BYU fullback Fui Vakapuna.