CAMAS — His expression exudes passion, intensity.
His words and his actions inspire.
Jason Vailea stands before his teammates, before every game, and leads the Camas football team in The Haka, a war chant with roots that go back a couple hundred years.
No result in a football game can be compared to the realities of The Haka’s origins — preparing oneself for war — but in the proper context, the Camas Haka does provide a lift to the team and its fans.
“It’s getting yourself ready for whatever is going to be thrown at you, to go in fearless, to take what’s coming at you,” Vailea said. “It’s supposed to be toward the other team, or the other tribe, to let them know you would do anything to protect the family.”
High school sportsmanship rules do not allow such a chant to be directed at the opposition. So for the last three seasons, the Papermakers have performed the chant in front of their fans.
“They love it,” said Vailea, now a senior. “It’s mostly for our team to get pumped up but our fans get pumped, too.”
Vailea and fellow senior John Ashford lead the rest of the Papermakers in the chant. Ashford is a step or two behind Vailea in the formation, with the other players closing ranks behind them.
Vailea gets all of his 6-foot-2, 270-pound body into the chant, sticking out his tongue, pounding his chest with his fist, showing off his tattooed arm, all while his wild, curly hair make him appear to be even bigger.
The Haka became popular in the sports world when the All Blacks, a rugby team representing New Zealand, started performing the chant before its matches. Vailea, an accomplished rugby player who has been involved with that sport since elementary school, learned of the chant’s importance then.
“The All Blacks transferred it over from battle, bloodshed, to rugby,” Vailea said. “We transferred it to football.”
Senior Jorden Payne said it gets him more energetic for the game.
“It’s not a joke. It’s dead serious,” Payne said. “I love the fact people don’t take it lightly. We show respect to it by taking it seriously.”
Vailea is a leader in pre-game and also a leader on the field. Vailea’s name often appears in the scoring summary as a short-yardage specialist on offense, but he is more known in the football community for being one of the best defensive linemen in the region. He and his Camas teammates have made it to the Class 4A state championship game. The Papermakers will face Chiawana of Pasco at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Vailea said he enjoys the contact, the battle every down, that playing on the defensive line demands.
“You get to show a lot of your strength,” he said.
Often, he is double-teamed. That is just part of the beauty of football, he said, the sacrifices needed for the team, the family. He will, after all, do anything to protect the family.
“When I get two blockers on me, it’s nice to free up my linebacker,” Vailea said. “I’m just doing my job, helping out my team.”
The coaches of the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League selected him to the first team in all-league voting, along with teammate Matt Danis on that defensive line.
Vailea got no votes for offense — just did not play enough snaps — but as far as touchdowns per touches, he has a near-perfect record. Vailea has seven rushing touchdowns this season on eight carries.
“We were talking about me blocking for (running back Nate) Beasley,” Vailea said, referring to discussions with coach Jon Eagle. “In practice, he decided to give me the ball.”
That rugby experience certainly helped.
“It looked pretty good in practice so he gave me the ball in a game,” Vailea said. “I just dove right in, and he stuck with it.”
Playing running back, even if just a sporadically, is fitting in a way, more closely matching his middle name. “Taufalele” is tattooed on his left arm. Vailea, whose dad is from Tonga, said it means storm run.
“Storms are scary,” Vailea said, “and now I’m running with the ball.”
A couple weeks ago, while on top of another player, Vailea stretched out the ball over the goal line, and then touched the ball down a couple times in the end zone. Just like a rugby player must do to score.
Vailea said he enjoys both sports equally. He hopes to play football in college. If not, perhaps rugby overseas.
Until that is figured out, he is just taking in all the special moments with his football team.
“It’s going to be sad after the game, win or lose, to be there with my family one last time on the field,” Vailea said. “I love each and every one of them.”
Vailea expresses that love every week, before every game, in front of all of Camas.
He then shows that love during the battles, the games.