Texas A&M, Utah football players killed in car crash

July 30, 2013

Polo Manukainiu (left) posed with Sione Latu (center) and Dez Richardson after high school signing day. (David Woo / AP)

Football players from Texas A&M and the University of Utah were killed in a single-car crash that occurred Monday night in northern New Mexico, according to both schools.

Polo Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman at A&M, and Gaius Vaenuku, an incoming freshman defensive tackle at Utah, died when the car in which they were riding rolled over near Cuba, N.M., as they traveled back to Texas from Utah. Shortly before setting out on the drive, Manukainiu had tweeted: “22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my.”

A&M said in a statement that Manukainiu “was a passenger in a 2002 Toyota Sequoia traveling south on U.S. 550 and the vehicle drifted off of the roadway and the driver over corrected and the vehicle rolled several times. Manukainiu and another passenger, Andrew Uhatafe, were ejected from the vehicle and deceased at the scene. Gaius Vaenuku, an incoming member of the Utah football team, was transported from the scene of the accident but was pronounced deceased in the ambulance.”

Offensive tackle Salesi Uhatage, also an incoming Utah freshman, and his father, Salesi Sr., both survived. Uhatafe is Manukainiu’s stepbrother and Andrew “Lolo” Uhatafe’s brother. Alcohol was not involved and it appears the driver was the only one wearing a seat belt.

“We lost a terrific young man,” Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin said (via KVUE.com). “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.”

The men were all graduates of Trinity High School in Euless, Texas.

“Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today,” Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said (via the Salt Lake Tribune). “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. This is a sad day not only for University of Utah football, but for everyone whose lives Gaius crossed or would have crossed but for this tragedy. Our hearts go out to Gaius’ and Salesi’s families, and to the Texas A&M coaches and players. We are praying for the speedy recovery of Salesi and his father.”

Johnny Manziel,  Manukainiu’s teammate at A&M, tweeted Tuesday morning:

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After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren | July 30, 2013