ALBUQUERQUE, NM(AP) – A Texas A&M freshman lineman and an incoming member of the University of Utah football team have died in a rollover crash in New Mexico, officials said Tuesday.
Polo Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M, and Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku were among three teens killed in the wreck, Texas A&M said in a statement. One of the survivors, Salesi Uhatafe, is another incoming freshman football player for Utah.
The wreck occurred Monday on U.S. 550 just north of Cuba.
State Police said in a report that Manukainiu, 19, and Vaenuku, 18, were passengers in a southbound 2002 Toyota Sequoia, according to the school’s statement. The vehicle drifted off of the road, the driver overcorrected, and the vehicle rolled several times.
Manukainiu and another passenger, Andrew Uhatafe, were ejected and died at the scene, the statement said. Vaenuku was transported from the scene but was pronounced dead in an ambulance.
The driver and another passenger were transported to a hospital with minor injuries. Officials said alcohol wasn’t involved and it appeared the driver was the only one wearing a seatbelt.
Manukainiu, 19, played football at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas and was part of the Aggies’ 2012 signing class. He was a recreation, parks and tourism science major, the school said. He is survived by his mother, Lima Uhatafe of Euless, Texas.
“We lost a terrific young man,” Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members.”
Texas A&M finished last season ranked No. 5 after an 11-2 season, their first in the Southeastern Conference. They were led by quarterback Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and are expected to be highly ranked again this year.
Vaenuku was set to begin his college career at the University of Utah this fall. He was a defensive tackle who had planned to play one year at Utah before going on a two-year Mormon mission, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported in January when he committed.
“Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today,” said Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham in a statement. “He was the kind of young man who lit up a room and his future in football and life had no boundaries. Words cannot express our devastation over the loss of Gaius.”
Vaenuku was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and considered playing at church-owned Brigham Young University but he said he just felt more at home in Salt Lake City playing for the Utes.
He said he chose Utah over Texas Christian University because being in Utah put him in a better position to prepare for his upcoming mission.
His bio on the University of Utah’s website says Vaenuku he had three brothers and three sisters and enjoyed acting and singing.
Uhatafe, 18, is an offensive lineman who played on the same high school team as Vaenuku.
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