Believe it or not, it is possible to be too tall to play rugby.
This was the dilemma that Frankie Tinilau faced a few years ago. The Aussie was 14 years old and had played in the front row for most of his life, and he had recovered. He was already one of the biggest kids his age and he was starting to think about football. His father played for a club team in Brisbane and Tinilau grew up watching him. He fell in love with rugby and wanted to try something new.
“I got too big,” he said, “and my heart wasn’t in the game anymore.”
The transition to football wasn’t entirely smooth, but he turned out to be a perfect fit. After court battles and a long-delayed move to the United States, Tinilau now has a secure future in the sport after making an oral commitment to the Miami Hurricanes as an offensive lineman last Monday.
This summer he will move to Florida full-time to play his final year at LaSalle – he is already taking online lessons with the private school in Miami – and hopes this will jump-start his development after spending years playing in Australia.
At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, Tinilau has the frame alone to make an impression on college football coaches and coach Mario Cristobal gave him the spot on his first visit to Coral Gables. for the first time last month. He’s also played against adult men abroad – his country doesn’t have an Under-20 league, so he plays against adults of all ages – and that makes coaches optimistic about his physique. In South Florida, it will also be tested by some of the fastest high school athletes in the world.
“The most important thing for him is just to adapt a bit to the speed,” said Royal Lions coach Helder Valle. “He has all the physical tools to succeed. … People at his height, the way he moves – you don’t find that much.
It is now a three star tackle in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2023 and has received nearly a dozen scholarship offers, even though he never played high school football and admits he doesn’t have many movies to show the coaches.
But it’s not for lack of trying.
When he first started playing football, Tinilau was a defensive and dominant lineman. He didn’t get anything out of playing with other 14-year-olds, his father decided, and the family wanted to explore having him play in a few age groups between 16 and 18. That necessitated a court visit, Tinilau said, because leagues usually only let players play if they were within a year of the age bracket.
The family later wanted to take Tinilau to the United States to pursue his football dreams, so he enrolled at St. Bernard in Playa Del Ray, California in early 2020.
“I really saw myself in an NFL jersey,” Tinilau said. “I sort of manifested in reverse: I defined the main goal and how can I achieve it?”
His trip to California was short-lived. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sports across the world to a halt and Tinilau has returned home, struggling in his club league.
The trip to America was not a total loss, however. During his short stay in the United States, Tinilau went to an All-American camp and another sponsored by Rivals.com. He received scholarship offers from the Florida State Seminoles and the Arizona State Sun Devils. He also landed a major Twitter following: Cristobal.
When that happened, Tinilau thought the Oregon Ducks would be a perfect fit. His favorite player in Penei Sewell, a fellow Samoan, who now plays for the Detroit Lions and was an All-American for Cristobal in Oregon, and the West Coast was relatively close to home.
“Seeing how they helped him and how they developed such a weird athlete like that is something I really want to be a part of,” Tinilau said.
Now Cristobal is entering his first season with the Hurricanes and Tinilau is also heading to Miami.
“It worked,” said Valle, who accompanied Tinilau on his visits in March.
With the Hurricanes, Tinilau trusts Cristobal and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal to develop him the same way they did with Sewell.
Cristobal and Mirabal hope they’ve found an under-the-radar gem – one that has intrigued them for a long time before they arrive in Miami.
“It was quite a whirlwind,” Valle said. “Nobody knew who this kid was from in South Florida and then he just blew up.”