The story of the Eagles Super Bowl win is one that will go down in history. A tale of underdogs, setbacks and proof that its not the size dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, this was a season that defied every expectation imaginable. There’s one man who personifies everything that’s been associated with the Philadelphia Eagles over the last few months; OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The TCU product entered his second season with the Eagles after a bumpy rookie campaign. Vaitai was asked to fill in for Lane Johnson during his suspension and was punished in his NFL debut by Ryan Kerrigan, a matchup that would later come back to haunt the Eagles over and over again. As time passed and experience was gained, Vaitai began to find his consistency.
Working closely with OL coach Jeff Stoutland, his second offseason was one of development and progress. But the Eagles would be forced to turn to Vaitai yet again when future Hall of Famer Jason Peters went down with injury. The project offensive tackle was called up to the plate yet again, only this side on the opposite side of the fortress. Lining up against some of the league’s most ferocious pass-rushers, many deemed the left hand side of the line to be a weakness for the Eagles, only for the heart of Vaitai to turn it into a strength.
“Knowing him, it was awfully fun to watch him.” Said Jason Tucker, Head Coach of the High School Vaitai once shined at, Haltom. “He was a backup coming in and he struggled at times during his rookie season with the NFL game which a lot of rookie lineman do. My favorite game to watch of his was against Minnesota. There were some stories here and there that might be the weak link vs Minnesota, but Big V held his own in that game and Philadelphia was able to get to the Super Bowl.”
It’s been a long time since Vaitai graduated from Haltom and took his talents to TCU and then the NFL, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“How the coaches on my staff were so excited when he got here, just to see him.” Coach Tucker explained when I asked what his first real memory of the athletic lineman was. “This is when he was playing at TCU. You could tell right away he left a mark on the coaching staff as a person, not just a player.
He comes around here at least once every semester and talks to me and the players. It’s got to the point where he gives me a hug and if he can work it into his schedule he’s come to watch a game of two of ours as well. He wished us good luck for one of our big games last year.”
It’s not uncommon to see players go out of their way to visit their High School’s or College teams once they’ve made it to the NFL, but Vaitai’s presence goes far beyond a simple ‘hello’.
“He’s been a visible presence since he’s graduated, which is nice, because the kids don’t see him as just some guy who came through here.” Tucker went on to say. “Once a semester they’ll see him, he’ll come talk to them before workouts. It’s nice for them to be able to talk to someone competing on that big stage.”
By the end of the regular season, Vaitai had just about seen it all. From Kahlil Mack and Von Miller to a ruthless Niners pass-rush, composure wasn’t something lacking in the TCU product’s game. In the postseason, the Eagles would need to see much of the same from their fifth-round draft selection from 2016…and they did.
After holding his own against Atlanta, Vaitai squared off against one of the league’s best in Everson Griffen. The result of which can be seen in this breakdown below.
“My favorite game to watch of his was against Minnesota.” Coach Tucker said excitedly. “There were some stories here and there that might be the weak link vs Minnesota, but Big V held his own in that game and Philadelphia was able to get to the Super Bowl.”
Vaitai wasn’t the only one to soar this season. The last time Haltom made the playoffs was when Big V was playing for them. This year marked the first playoff appearance for Vaitai’s High School since he departed to become a Horned Frog. The same year in which Vaitai himself won a Super Bowl ring.
The leap taken from Vaitai between year one and year two was huge. Under the guidance of Jeff Stoutland, Big V has developed into a reliable offensive lineman for the Eagles and more impressively, one who’s filled in for two franchise tackles on both ends of the bookshelf.
There are many questions that need answering with the offseason now on the horizon. Will the Eagles invest in some depth at offensive tackle? Will Jason Peters be the starter for 2018 and beyond? Where does Vaitai fit into the grand scheme of things? While these questions can have a variety of answers depending on who you ask, the Head Coach of Haltom believes fully in the offensive lineman.
“He’s shown in the Eagles playoff run that he’s a legitimate starter in the NFL.” Coach Tucker said. “He’s only in his second year, he’s still young and will continue to get better and stronger. He’s a student of the game. He talks about talking to Peters as a mentor up there. I think he’s going to be a good NFL player and have a long career.”
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports