by Jordan Roy-Byrne
Many college athletes who dream of a future in the pros do so with visions of fame and fortune, dollar signs dancing before their eyes.
Such is not the case for Washington offensive tackle Francisco Tipoti. Surprisingly humble and soft-spoken, given his 6-foot-5, 325-pound frame, Tipoti is motivated not by money, but by a desire to finish the path his father began a quarter century ago, before injuries robbed him of his dream.
"Growing up, I felt that he set a path for me, and I have had a dream of following his footsteps and completing his dream," says Tipoti, a native of Honolulu. "Playing for Hawaii his junior year, he broke his shoulder, hip and knee. His NFL dreams were shattered right then and there."
Despite his size and talent, the younger Tipoti's career has been similarly frought with challenges, both on and off the field.
As a child living with epilepsy, it appeared unlikely that Tipoti would ever play football, much less live out his father's dream of a professional career.
The neurological disorder causes a temporary change in the way brain cells work, and sufferers can be prone to frequent seizures. During a seizure, the person may black out or experience a number of unusual sensations or movements. Seizures usually last a matter of seconds or minutes, after which the brain cells return to normal.
Seizures can be especially problematic for athletes, whose larger and stronger muscles can create movements and sensations during seizures that are significantly more painful than those of a non-athlete.
"It all started when I was just being a rough-neck little kid. Running around, I fell on my head once and that's how it happened," Tipoti recalls. "The doctors didn't clear me to play until my freshman of year high school."
Once able to participate in team sports, Tipoti gravitated straight to football. Already behind in his quest to live out his father's dream, he knew that he would have to work twice as hard to catch up. After attracting attention from several schools, Tipoti signed with then-Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel in 1998. His single-minded focus on a football career, however, had taken a toll academically, and Tipoti found himself ineligible to enroll at Colorado.
Ironically, Tipoti landed at the City College of San Francisco, the same school at which his father had played for two seasons before transferring to Hawaii. Tipoti excelled at CCSF, helping his team to the JC Gridwire National Championship, while being named a first-team junior-college All-American.
After completing his associate arts degree at CCSF in 2001, Tipoti chose to honor his commitment to Neuheisel, now the head coach at Washington.
Now was the point in his career at which Tipoti was to diverge from his father's past, excel at the collegiate level and advance to the professional ranks. Fate, however, had a different destiny in mind. As he struggled to adjust to the Division-I game, Tipoti's weight ballooned to 355 pounds, and he fell off the depth chart at offensive tackle.
"I had a real lazy season, Tipoti admits, "but Coach Cozzetto really woke me up this last spring. He has taught me how tough this game is."
Determined not to let his family dream die, Tipoti worked hard and reestablished himself during spring practice, losing nearly 30 pounds while opening eyes with his impressive performances.
Currently the reserve to strongside tackle Nick Newton, Tipoti's emergence this spring and summer has provided depth to a unit that has been reshuffled time and again by injuries and attrition. Tipoti and his linemates have thus far been outstanding run blockers in 2003, helping the UW running game average nearly twice as many yards per game as compared to last season.
"I just plan on competing really hard and competing for a starting job eventually," Tipoti says. "If I keep my focus I feel I will see more time."
Despite his struggles, Tipoti continues to compete. He doesn't complain, nor does he wonder how things might have gone differently.
Make the pros or not - he has made his father proud, and that is all that truly matters.