When you look at Sio Nofoagatoto’a, what do you see?
At first glance, I saw a talented defensive tackle. I saw a 6’2, 320 pound guy who looked poised to make a difference to the Indiana Hoosiers defense. Looking at him, I saw a last name that was hard to consistently spell correctly. I saw a an impressive stat-line with an even more impressive highlight tape.
Sio was kind enough to allow me to interview him this past week and provide some insight into his life and recruitment. After our conversation, I discovered that I wasn’t necessarily wrong. But, however, I was only beginning to barely scratch the surface on who Sio is.
The 2019 Indiana Hoosiers recruiting class is already made up of 10 out-of-state commits. This was bizarre to me, especially given a guy like Nofoagatoto’a comes all the way from Florida. When asked about how a high school football player from the Sunshine State found his way to Indiana, I had no idea what I was in for.
“It’s actually a long story,” Sio started.
I got nervous.
“I was born in New Zealand, raised in American Samoa [a US Territory in the Pacific], and then in 2015, my family moved to Australia. My uncle is good friends with the current head coach.”
Connections have a funny way of paying off and Nofoagatoto’a is no exception. “The school was able to help me and give me my chance to play high school ball in the [United States] and give me the chance to chase my dream of playing college ball.”
The pieces started to fall into place for Sio, and they didn’t stop there.
“After my junior year which was my first season in the U.S., I got an offer by coach Mark Hagen. After my visit, I just fell in love with it and I made my decision.”
Through only one season of high school football, Nofoagatoto’a earned himself a spot as Florida’s 150th best recruit, according to 247Sports.
Sio has no plans of slowing down either. He told me, “I want to double or pass all my stats from last year… I’m going to show everyone why I should be one of the highest ranked [defensive tackles] in the country.”
Doubling your stats from a season where you put up 69 solo tackles? Nofoagatoto’a is ambitious.
He isn’t unrealistic either, though. His college goals are, “for now, I’m going to take it year by year, but my goal as a freshman in college is to be an All-American true freshman.”
He’s thinking about the future but not getting too far ahead of himself. Sio seems to be mature beyond his years. However, that type of maturity has to come from somewhere – a role model of some sort.
The answer to its origin wasn’t hard to find.
“My biggest influence would be my parents and my family. Just seeing how much they sacrificed for me and my siblings motivates me every day to work hard for my ultimate goal.”
His parents have played a huge part in his life and seem to be a big reason Sio is where he is today. If that quote isn’t enough proof, he also told me the last meal he’d eat before dying was, “Mom’s Rice and Chicken.” Additionally, his favorite football memory is, “having my dad training early mornings and late nights.”
Nofoagatoto’a and Indiana
Sio has the most unique story of any other 2019 commit I’ve spoken too – perhaps of any 2019 recruit out there. However, at Indiana, he isn’t alone.
“One of my teammates committed to IU before me, Kervens [Bonhomme]. He’s one of my closest friends. We both felt the same about IU and knew that it was definitely the school for us.”
But why? Why did not one, but two students attending Clearwater Academy in Fla. decide that Bloomington, Ind. was the perfect fit for them?
“I felt at home.”
You’d be surprised how quickly he knew Indiana was the place for him. “Right after my visit. I felt at home with the place, with the players and with the staff. There’s a culture of family at IU, and I feel like me being in that environment is best for me.”
All it took was one visit to Bloomington to sell Nofoagatoto’a on being a Hoosier. “I got a lot of one on one time with the coaches which helped me develop a stronger relationship with my future coaching staff.”
Sio showed more excitement than anyone I’ve spoken to, athlete or not, about attending Indiana. “I got to see the beautiful campus and college town.” I pressed him more, asking what he felt was so outstanding about IU.
He didn’t disappoint, saying, “The world-class education. To be specific, their business school and their beautiful campus.” That, and of course, “to play in the best conference of college football, the Big Ten.”
Sio and Football
There’s only so much to gather from limited stats and tape, so I decided to talk to Nofoagatoto’a about it directly. Sio is a unique talent, so we talked if he modeled his game after anyone in particular. “I would say I model my game around Dontari Poe because of his versatility. I feel like I’m an athlete, not just a D-tackle. I’m able to play any spot coaches need me at,” he said.
Then, I asked what he feels sets him apart from other players in the same position. “Being able to fit into any scheme or play any point of the D-line,” he told me. Sio continued, saying, “I feel comfortable being a rusher, stuffing the double teams, playing against the run, etc.”
Nofoagatoto’a Outside Football
Before ending the interview, I wanted to give Sio the opportunity to tell his story and put himself out there for the world. Too often, the public sees athletes for only their statistics, their stars or their accomplishments.
So, we discussed what makes Sio different from everyone else. Everyone has a story, and I wanted to tell his.
“Growing up in American Samoa, it’s very different. You learn to be thankful for all the little things in life. Growing up there really helped me in life and in football. It’s a different life there compared to here in America. Kids wake up early before sunrise to do chores before walking to school. I think the lifestyle is the reason American Samoa produces many NFL players.”
He’s interested in studying sports management while at Indiana. If an NFL career doesn’t pan out, Sio said he’d like to pursue the more business aspect of football. With his work ethic, the sky looks to be the limit in either category.
And, as the conversation winded down, I gave Nofoagatoto’a the opportunity to tell Hoosier fans something he’d like them to know about him. “I’m a well-rounded guy. I’m good at sports, education is my number one priority, I play guitar, piano, etc.”
Well, Sio, Hoosier fans will look forward to seeing you tear it up on the field, and watching you bring the house down during a solo-set at the Bluebird.