Dave Peck and Epoki Mahina are two different coaches from two different worlds. Peck coaches Bingham High School's football team and oversees a program that has won 11 state titles in its history. Mahina leads the West Valley Warriors Rugby Club, picking up his fair share of titles along the way. 

The two coach different sports and different athletes. Most of the time, at least. But not always.

Instead, Peck and Mahina can both say they share a common bond for the simple fact that each coached Jacksonville Jaguars rookie defensive lineman Jay Tufele in high school, getting a glimpse at the future star USC football recruit and fourth-round NFL Draft pick while he was still a developing teen, growing into both his physical traits, himself as a person and his love for both rugby and football.

Each saw the rare physical traits that helped him excel at both sports. The athleticism, the explosiveness, the power. He combined these all with his love for each sport, making a name for himself in front of both Peck and Mahina, no matter which field he was on.

"He was a physical kid, even when he was young," Peck told Jaguar Report in an interview. 

"And I mean, very rarely do we bring up ninth graders to be part of our varsity program. But you could just see he was going to be a special kid."

Peck coached Tufele for his first two seasons of high school football. In Tufele, he saw a young player with the talent, leadership and desire to be great that could help him grow by leaps and bounds. 

But it was Peck's first interaction with the future prep star and Max Preps Sophomore All-American first team lineman that showed Peck just how special Tufele was. Not just on the field, but off it. The kind of special that when combined with his physical traits results in a program-changing player, one whose professional sports future was never much in doubt. 

As Peck tells it, his first interaction with Tufele came as Tufele was entering his freshman year of high school. Bingham's football team was holding their 'Code of Ethics meeting' where the program's staff detailed what they expected out of the team on and off the field in terms of loyalty, respect, integrity, and more.

The meeting started at 7:00. Tufele walked in at 7:02. 

Peck's first memory of Tufele was making an example out of Tufele and asking him in front of the team why he was late to a meeting with a strict start time. What Peck didn't know was that Tufele's ambition to even make it to that meeting is what would make him one of his best players. 

What Peck also didn't know is why Tufele was late. He spoke to Tufele that day and got to know him, discovering that Tufele didn't play for Bingham Little League. He also discovered exactly why those two precious minutes were lost.

"He walked to the meeting that night. That was, I'm gonna say it's probably 15 miles away. I would bet it is 15 miles," Peck said. "And he walked and he was like two minutes late for the meeting. I lit him up in front of everybody. And that was our first time that Jay [was] being welcomed to Bingham football.

"And you know what, I'm sure glad he stayed and decided to come."

Peck quickly realized just how badly Tufele wanted to be a part of Bingham. How badly he wanted to play football for the Miners. Badly enough that he walked 15 miles for a 7 p.m. meeting and still decided to stay even though he was berated for being two minutes late, hardly an offense when considering the distance he traveled.

But that is Tufele. He is someone who Peck says grew into "a really good leader". Someone who never had issues with being two minutes late again, even if it would have been understandable if he was. 

But as special as a person as Tufele was, and as special as his desire to play for Bingham was in his heart, it was his natural talent and athleticism that was the final piece to him becoming a prep star in football. And it didn't take long for that piece to become a driving force to Bingham's success over the following seasons.

"We immediately realized once we start seeing him in some workouts how good he was," Peck said. 

"As a freshman, we moved him right up to our JV and varsity. And then his sophomore year, he was starting varsity for us as a sophomore, which doesn't happen with a lot of kids."

Tufele's high school football career is one for the history books. He was named a first-team defender for countless local and state publications and was Salt Lake Tribune's MVP as a junior after recording 57 tackles and 10.,5 sacks.  

As a result, Tufele went on to become a four-star recruit according to 247.com. He was not only the top-rated recruit in the state of Utah, but he was also the nation's third-ranked defensive tackle and the No. 39 player nationally. From USC to Ohio State to Michigan, college football blue bloods came out in droves to recruit the future Jaguars' draft pick. 

But Tufele's heart wasn't just with football. While some top football recruits would scoff at the idea of putting their bodies and futures at risk in other physical sports, Tufele didn't just want to play a second sport. He more than desired it. 

When it came to rugby, Tufele simply seemed destined.

"Jay started playing for us in 2016. The first time he comes in and I saw him in my practice, I was surprised because was he was one of the top prospects in recruiting by the college and the high school," Mahina told Jaguar Report in an interview. 

As Mahina put it, most football players who are being recruited wouldn't play rugby, "but Jay was different." Tufele instantly began to pick up the sport after first attempting to play in 2016 under Mahina, learning the game and its nuances quicker than Mahina could have predicted.

Tufele was already a household name throughout Utah prep sports before he stepped onto a rugby pitch and donned West Valley's club colors. Despite this, he embraced his new sport with the same humble attitude that Peck saw from him years previously, never expecting to be handed a spot or opportunity. 

"And then he was like a very humble kid. Very humble. I think he's like a humble giant to me," Mahina said. 

"And he was like, it amazed me was it was his very first year but he was so athletic and he was like so fast for his size. And that's the reason I think why we won the championship that year. Because a lot of it was Jay. But he picked up the sport very fast for his very first year."

West Valley won the state high school club championship in 2016, Tufele's rookie rugby season. He wasn't the entire team, of course, instead being a small piece to an overall efficient and dominant machine. 

But Tufele was anything but small outside of his role. He was a hulking presence on the field, proving to be simply too fast, too strong, too athletic, and too determined to be the best he could be in rugby, just as he was in football. As Mahina explained it, Tufele would enter big games and display his ability to pull away from smaller players who thrived on their athleticism. 

"He was very hard to bring down. He had power and speed and I think strength also plus his size," Mahina explained. 

Add in his physical traits, his humble attitude and team-first attitude and his pure love for Rugby, and Tufele was a revelation for Mahina and his club. Mahina says he expressed surprise at seeing Tufele join the team due to his status as a highly touted football recruit, but it wasn't hard to learn that Tufele quickly grew to love his new sport. 

That love blossomed so much during Tufele's two years playing for Mahina that he eventually told his coach that rugby had joined football in his heart. Enough to the extent that Tufele didn't sneeze at the idea of playing rugby even after high school.

"He told me one time that he wanted to play professional rugby. He said if he doesn't make it through football, he will come back and try to play professional rugby," Mahina said.

Mahina told Tufele the money was in football, but Tufele's love for rugby never wavered. And neither did Mahina's confidence that Tufele could do anything he put his mind to -- especially when it came to rugby.

"I think he can play professional rugby because he has got the size, he's got the speed and everything," Mahina said. 

The Jaguars will of course hope that any potential rugby career comes far, far down the road for Tufele. But the simple fact that he is so capable of doing it even with limited experience shows the type of athlete the Jaguars have. Not just in terms of athleticism, but in terms of drive, desire and love for competition. 

Jacksonville will soon lean on Tufele to be a key piece of the defensive line rotation, just as he was for Peck and Bingham. And they will also lean on him to be a humble and quick learner ready to make an instant impact, just as he was for Mahina and the West Valley Warriors Rugby club.

But until then, those who have coached Tufele will continue to remember him as more than just a special talent. He was an exceptional athlete, but he was exceptional off the field as well. And now, his success and path to the NFL can be a source of inspiration for other athletes in Utah, especially those who are interested in blending love for both rugby and football. 

"It is huge. I follow him and I kind of watched him when he was in USC. I try to watch him as much as I can. And for him to make it all the way to NFL is like huge for our little club here in West Valley," Mahina said. 

"And for Jay he will be like the first one to like breakout from West Valley, from our club, and to make it to the NFL. It is huge for us."

This article first appeared on FanNation Jaguar Report and was syndicated with permission.

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