Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Friends and family celebrates life of '08 linebacker


Sharon Ho
Issue Date: 12/14/09

Hayward's All Saints Catholic Church held a mass and vigil on Jan. 11 for former CSM linebacker William Robert Vatuvei, who died at age 19 on Jan. 3.

Vatuvei's funeral mass and burial took place on Jan. 12 at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward.

"Last night's vigil, which began at 7 p.m., went on until after 11 p.m.," said All Saints Catholic Church liturgical coordinator Mari Kriege in a phone interview.

"The whole chapel was so full that there were people standing at the back of the church," said Bulldog teammate Matangi Tonga, who attended the vigil. "That was a good thing because it showed his family that Will made an impact on so many people's lives."

"There were well over 2,000 people there," said Bulldog defensive coordinator Tim Tulloch in a phone interview. "There was such an overwhelming outpouring of support from the local community and it was amazing seeing how many lives he touched."

"The huge turnout just shows how great of a man Will was," said Bulldog teammate Jack Forbes, who attended the vigil. "Will was a special guy who always had a big smile on his face. We played the same position of outside linebacker. When Will first came to CSM, I sort of took him under my wing."

"(Will's death) really didn't hit me until after the mass ended and the break happened," said Bulldog teammate Josh Crigger, who also attended the vigil. "During the break all of the boys (Vatuvei's Bulldog teammates) met up and went to go see the body. That was probably the hardest part."

According to Crigger, Vatuvei's No. 44 Bulldog jersey, No. 44 Moreau Catholic High School football jersey and No. 44 Hayward High School football jersey were placed beside his casket.

Vatuvei, who loved football and played football for most of his short life, had a cousin who plays for the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals; Vatuvei himself had a lifelong dream to pursue football as a career.

"Will was an amazing person to be around and was the definition of a team player," said Bulldog teammate David Aknin, who also attended the vigil. "He will truly be missed by the entire Bulldog family. Life is too short."

"It was crazy that he died so young; he was only 19 years old," said Tonga. "We played (football) together for one semester (fall 2008) and then the next thing you know he was gone."

Other Bulldog teammates who came to the vigil included Andrew Moeaki, Paul Fakahua and Ratu Rabelo.

"Will was a tough guy; it was painful to see him leave like that," said Moeaki. "It hurts all of us. He is gone but never forgotten; he will always be in our hearts. Ofa atu toko ua (I love you brother)."

"I just want people to know what a humble lion he was, always cheerful and caring and making people laugh," said Bulldog teammate Ratu Rabelo, who played as a sophomore outside linebacker together with a freshman outside linebacker Vatuvei in fall 2008. "He will be missed truly."

Vatuvei is also fondly remembered by members of his church.

"Will was a gentle giant; he was physically beautiful and his spirt was beautiful," said Kriege. Vatuvei is listed on the 2008 Bulldog football roster as 6'3".

"The Tongan community at All Saints built a platform of solid wood with loving hands and used it to carry the gospel," Kriege said. "The platform is really very heavy; the people who carry the platform are all these strong beautiful Tongan football players, and Will was part of that. I used to ask them if the platform was very heavy to carry and they were all like "nah, it's nothing."

Many people who knew Vatuvei personally spoke about him at the vigil.

"It showed how hard of a loss it was when people came up and talked about Will," said Crigger. "Coach T (Tulloch) had a great speech and showed a side of Will that not many got to see."

Tulloch spoke about the love Vatuvei's mother Fiona had for her son and also shared a few anecdotes about Vatuvei.

"I talked about a couple of those shared conversations I had with him, the first time he practised with us Bulldogs, and how even though Will had a rough exterior, inside he was really a mama's boy who love his mum very much," Tulloch said. "Fiona would call me once a week to check how Will was doing with school, simply showing a whole new level of love."

According to Kriege, the priest who led the homily told the crowded church that "while we might be tempted to focus on how he died, let us not waste time dwelling on that and instead focus on celebrating William and his life."

"The service was very touching," said Forbes.

"Throughout the whole night I was enjoying (the celebration about) his life, and there was many times where (the celebration) made a smile on my face," Crigger said.

"Will became part of our Bulldog family," Tulloch said. "He will always be in our hearts and we will never forget him. Once a Bulldog always a Bulldog."

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