Duke’s veteran radio announcer, Bob Harris, was sitting in the media room in Cameron Indoor Stadium when he learned that he wouldn’t be calling the name of Michael Brown for hard hits, quarterback sacks, and fumbles forced by the Blue Devil linebacker. Harris took the news in stride and asked the informant, “Pronounce it again, please?”
Harris pondered the name for a moment, then repeated it slowly.
“Tauiliili. Got it.”
Rumors began circulating that the Brown-to-Tauiliili switch was part of a conspiracy to frustrate Harris with a Duke defense that already included the likes of Ayanga Okpokowuruk, Vince Oghobaase and Greg Akinbiyi. Not true. Rather, Tauiliili decided on the change to pay respects to his Samoan heritage.
“My mom is from Samoa,” Tauiliili explained. “Tauiliili is basically our family name. That is where it originated. In the country of Samoa you have four high chiefs and my great, great, great grandfather, Tauiliili, was one of them. The way Brown came into it was my mom took on her stepfather’s name. When I went back to Samoa and talked to my family, I felt that as I got older and more mature and understood my heritage it was necessary to embrace it to the fullest.”
A group of 10 islands in the South Pacific, Samoa was first inhabited by humans over 3,000 years ago and hosts a traditional society with a distinctive Polynesian cultural heritage. Two islands – Upolu and Savaii – account for approximately 96 percent of the land area while the total population is near 180,000. Samoa gained its independence in 1962 after New Zealand held administrative control for the previous 48 years.
Tauiliili has come to respect the family values set forth by his ancestors.
“I’m very proud of the type of environment,” he said. “When you go to Samoa it is different from the States. It is very peaceful. The people are real close. The island isn’t that big so everybody knows each other and everybody looks out for one another and I like that. I like the pride. I was too young to understand but as I got older, I realized all the Samoans in Houston or around the area are still close.”
Duke fans can be assured that the name on the back of the jersey won’t affect the energy, prowess and determination that Tauiliili displayed as a true freshman in 2005 when he led the Blue Devils in total tackles with 92. Thrust into the starting lineup in week two following an injury to Codey Lowe, the 5-11, 235-pound middle linebacker went on to post three double figure tackle games – including a season-high 15 stops versus Wake Forest – and led all rookie linebackers nationally in tackles, tackles for loss (10.0) and caused fumbles (3).
The Houston, Texas, native received First Team Freshman All-America and ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year accolades from The Sporting News.
“Michael had a good, productive first season,” said Duke head coach Ted Roof. “He has put in hard work during the offseason, and hopefully that will pay off as he aims to be a more consistent player. He has a fire about him that wants to be successful and, more importantly, help this team succeed.”