Away from athletics, Glacier Peak’s Mosese Fifita is a mild-mannered kid. He’s soft-spoken and humble.
Put him in competition and that all changes.
“He was a dude,” Grizzlies head football coach Rory Rosenbach said.
In coach speak “dude” best translates to “unstoppable force,” which is exactly what Fifita was on the football field and the wrestling mat during the majority of his high school career.
Last fall, he was one of the top defensive lineman in the state and one of the leaders of a Glacier Park football team that reached the quad-district playoffs.
In February, he became a state champion wrestler for the first time with a victory over Oak Harbor’s Jackson Constant in the Class 3A 285-pound final at Mat Classic. The win capped an undefeated season and earned Fifita a No. 17 national ranking in his weight class from Wrestling U.S.A. Magazine.
Those are just a few of the reasons The Herald selected Fifita as its 2015 Boys Athlete of the Year.
“I was excited,” Fifita said of learning of the selection. “It’s a big honor to be chosen for that.”
Candidates for the award are nominated by athletic directors from local high schools. Five of the six finalists were picked by readers in an online poll. Fifita was the top vote-getter in the poll.
“When you have a kid that works as hard as he does and then actually gets to achieve and realize what he’s worked so hard for, it’s a lot of fun,” Rosenbach said.
Rosenbach said Fifita produced several memorable moments on the football field, but one in particular stood out in the coach’s mind — and it came in Fifita’s final game, a quad-district playoff loss to Auburn Mountainview. With the Glacier Peak offense driving deep in Lions’ territory, the Grizzlies threw an interception. The opposing defensive back appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. The 295-pound Fifita, who also started on the offensive line, had other ideas. He sprinted 90 yards and caught the DB less than 10 yards from the goal line.
“(The defensive back) wasn’t some scrub football player and he could run,” Rosenbach said. “I’ve never seen that before.”
When the play was over, Fifita didn’t celebrate. He did what he’s always done.
“He got up and jogged off the field,” Rosenbach said. “That’s how you play. That’s how you’re supposed to play.”
When Fifita was done sacking quarterbacks and chasing down defensive backs, he spent his winters wrestling. He finished fourth at state as a sophomore, third as a junior and reached the pinnacle as a senior, pinning Constant in 1 minute, 12 seconds.
“To win a state championship,” Fifita said, “it was one of the best feelings of my life.”
A wrestler who brings an undefeated record into a state final puts lot of pressure on himself, Glacier Peak wrestling coach Bryan Mossburg said, but Fifita did “an incredible job of keeping his focus.”
“You could tell there was a huge burden lifted off of his shoulders when it was done,” Mossburg said. “He went out there and executed just like he needed to. When he put (Constant) on his back, I knew it was over. When he came up with that look on his face and he looked up into the crowd to his parents, you could tell a couple of years worth of waiting was really worth it. … It was a pretty cool moment.”
While football came naturally to Fifita, wrestling did not.
“I definitely think a lot of hard work has gotten me where I am,” he said. “I started wrestling when I was in seventh grade and I was just horrible. I think there were four guys in my weight class and I was at the bottom. It took me a long time to get good at that sport.”
Fifita’s athletic accomplishments, along with his academic achievements and community involvement, earned him a football scholarship to the Air Force Academy.
“There’s a mental toughness that they are looking for and he has that,” Mossburg said. “He can turn it on and off when he needs to. He can be a fun-loving guy and he can put his nose to the grindstone and get the job done.
“There’s a reason he is where he is.”
Perhaps Fifita’s greatest asset was the ability to know when he needed to be a competitive warrior and when to be the lovable teenager his classmates are so fond of.
“The guys love him,” Mossburg said. “He’s very well-liked and he’s very likeable. He’s a humble guy.
“He never lost his character or his cool,” Mossburg added. “He wasn’t the kind of guy we had to worry about punching a hole through a locker, but you knew he put that somewhere. If he didn’t have the result that he wanted, he was going to use that to compete and put it towards the next match or the next practice or whatever it was.”
Balancing such a busy life can be stressful, but Fifita never let it show — in large part thanks to football and wrestling.
“I guess football and wrestling were just my outlet for my stress in everyday life,” he said. “It was, I guess you could say, my safe haven or my temple. You could just let it all out and be who you want to be.”
And who he is has always made his coaches proud.
“I think one of the biggest things is just how he’s done it with his character and humbleness,” Mossburg said.
“I want my son to be like that.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.