The beaming stadium lights, the flashing cameras, and the roaring crowds make any football field a stage for Charlie Taumoepeau to make his grand performance.
The 20-year-old Portland State University tight end, and Federal Way High School alum, is off to a strong start in the 2018 Big Sky conference football season.
The Portland State Vikings are currently 1-2, with a recent at-home win 63-14 against College of Idaho on Sept. 15. In the preseason away games, PSU lost to Oregon 14-62 on Sept. 8 and Nevada 19-72 on Aug. 31.
“We call them our ‘money games,’” Taumoepeau said, noting the first two games of the season are always his favorite matchups, despite this year’s losses. “They’re always the best games for me because we get to play on the big stage and play against opponents at a higher level.”
In his junior year at PSU, Taumoepeau has made five receiving touchdowns and ran for 326 yards so far this season. Last year, he had 45 receptions for 673 yards and made three touchdowns — the highest reception count by a Viking tight end since Barry Naone in 1988.
When it comes to the big “money games,” the opportunity is too great to be nervous — even when playing against his childhood dream school, Oregon University.
“To be honest, I don’t think there is much pressure,” he said. “I just love the fact I got the opportunity to play at Oregon. I wasn’t really a big WSU or UW fan growing up, it was always Oregon.”
Standing at 6 foot 3 and 240 pounds, Taumoepeau’s size combined with his unexpected speed as a tight end is what sets him apart from the rest.
“I like to condition every single day, at least once a day because I feel like if I can never get tired on the field, then my technique will never go out the window,” he said.
Taumoepeau has made huge strides since being at Portland State, he said, his success a result of commitment — and conditioning training.
“Growing up, I was never really the best player on the team, never the fastest or the strongest,” he said. “But I always told myself that at some point I could be if I just continued to work and strive for it.”
Prior to graduating from Federal Way High School in 2015, Taumoepeau didn’t receive an offer to play collegiate ball until a few months after his senior football season ended.
“I played with some really good players who are actually really good friends of mine too,” he said, mentioning WR Chico McClatcher and DL Jared Pulu, who both play for the University of Washington.
Although these two players had most of the spotlight in high school pulling multiple offers from across the nation, Taumoepeau knew he could also be at that same level and continued to put in work to achieve his dream.
“I don’t think I’d be playing this position if it wasn’t for being at Federal Way,” he said. “Our offense didn’t include any tight ends, so I got to play receiver and got to showcase that I can move pretty well for a big guy.”
Throughout his entire football journey, Taumoepeau’s biggest motivation comes from home.
“My mom and dad are really hard workers and they’ve done everything they could to make life as easy as possible for me and my siblings,” he said. He was born in Tonga and moved to California, then Federal Way during his childhood. “And my siblings, I’d do anything for those four.”
His parents have always offered words of encouragement for obstacles on the field and in the classroom, he said. Ever since Taumoepeau’s first time setting foot on the football field as a sixth-grader playing for the Federal Way Hawks, his parents have given an outpouring of support, he said.
“My background on my phone is a picture is of my mom and dad,” he said. “Just so I can see them everyday and to remind myself of why I’m here, why I’m doing this.”
His peak performance happens when he lets himself enjoy the experience and have fun on the field, he said.
“I think I’m at my best when I’m just smiling and playing football like when I was a kid.”
Taumoepeau’s advice to young athletes is: “No matter where you’re at, whether you’re at the top or the bottom, continue to believe in yourself and work as hard as you can,” he said. “No matter what I went through, I never stopped telling myself I can do this.”
In 2017, he won second-team All-Big Sky Conference, a feat that added fuel to the fire.
“I feel like being second made me hungrier for this year,” he said. “Being a second-team All-Big Sky player last year meant the most to me because it showed me I can be better, do way more and push to be No. 1.”
As the season continues for PSU, he said the team will focus on one game at a time, but also keep their sight set on winning the Big Sky Conference championship.