Mo Latu, ASU football embrace Camp Tontozona spirit with ukulele

Video by Evan Webeck | Sports Reporter

PAYSON, Arizona — Before they departed for Camp Tontozona, players from the ASU football team were sitting around in one of the meeting rooms at the Sun Devil football facilities. The group was chatting and bonding, just as Camp T is supposed to help them do. Then, in a moment of silence, the notes from a three-stringed instrument ring out in the room.

It remains silent, almost awkward. But then, a gentle hum from around the room begins to coincide with the strums. Soon, the entire room has broken out into a chorus of “Over The Rainbow,” made famous by The Wizard of Oz.

It was a moment of solidarity between teammates and peace between football players: exactly what Mo Latu looks for when he plays the ukulele.

“I guess it gives everyone an escape (from football),” the redshirt junior defensive lineman said. “So I guess the only thing we can do it is escape with the ukulele.”

Soon, it wasn’t just Latu breaking out into song. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Salamo Fiso, junior offensive lineman Nick Kelly and freshman defensive back Dasmond Tautalatasi began to join him, and even redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong contributed his own freestyle verse to “Over The Rainbow.”

It’s become tradition for Latu to bring the ukulele to Camp T. He started bringing when he was a sophomore, and it was such a hit that his teammates have made him bring it ever since.

The instant bond over music even helped Tautalatasi find a place to fit in with his fellow Sun Devils. As a freshman, it can sometimes be difficult to forge relationships with those in different years and position groups, but the ukulele has brought together freshmen from the secondary and upperclassmen from the trenches.

“It’s just cool to click with other guys like that on the team,” Tautalatasi said.

He almost brought his ukulele but decided against it. Now, Tautalatasi says he regrets not bringing it after overhearing Latu playing it at Camp T.

“I was going to bring mine, actually,” Tautalatasi said. “But I didn’t know he was going to bring his. Then, I heard him playing it, and I was like, ‘Mo, let’s play and jam together!’”

Video by Evan Webeck | Sports Reporter

Tautalatasi and Latu share at least one thing in common: the respect for music in their heritage. While Latu has been playing music all his life, Tautalatasi only just picked up the ukulele three years ago (after watching a 10-minute YouTube video. “Pretty easy,” he said). However, his favorite music is island reggae, and he appreciates the cultural history of the ukulele.

“Just being able to play music, especially the music of my culture,” Tautalatasi said, “it’s pretty amazing.”

Latu picked up music far longer ago. In fact, he said he was a “band geek” in high school and knows how to play “any instrument you can think of — every brass instrument.” Unlike Tautalatasi, Latu learned the ukulele by it being passed down to him. He first played with his uncles, then his brothers before picking it up well enough to play on his own.

The ukulele was far from the first instrument Latu learned. His first was the French horn, then he picked up band instruments, such as the tuba, trumpet and saxophone. There is, however, one instrument he still yearns to know how to play.

“One thing I want to learn how to play is the violin,” Latu said. “But I don’t know if a violin is going to fit on my neck.”

Latu checks in at 6-foot-3, 384 pounds. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Tyler Sulka joked with him that he makes a full-sized guitar look like a ukulele, but Latu goes along with it.

“It’s unique (playing the ukulele),” Latu said. “I like it. A lot of people don’t expect it.” At first, he says it’s not the most interesting thing about him, but he quickly takes it back and admits as such.

Although Tautalatasi doesn’t play anything other the ukulele, he does want to learn more instruments. For now, though, his other instrument is his voice.

“I won’t say I’m too good,” he said. “But yeah, (I can sing).”

Although a team band isn’t in the works, the pieces are certainly there. At least they’ll continue to get together during the season and jam, if not formally.

With the way it has brought them closer together, a weekly jam session just might be required by coach Todd Graham going forward. One of the team’s goals it went over together at Camp T was being able to build a strong relationship with one another.

“With the help of music,” Tautalatasi said, “that can make it an easier accomplishment.”

Reach the reporter at ewebeck@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck