PINELLAS PARK — Lawrance Toafili, one of the best running backs in the state and almost certainly the best back in Pinellas Park High School history, wears another uniform of sorts when he is not on the gridiron.
He likes to don a lavalava, a traditional article of clothing worn by people in American Samoa that functions like a sarong. If it was up to him, he would wear a lavalava and Kukui nut necklace everywhere.
“But I don’t think they would let me wear it to school,” Toafili said.
Toafili was born and raised in the St. Petersburg area, but comes from a large family with a Samoan background. His grandparents, Masi and Nua, were born on the island and lived in the capital of Pago Pago. After high school, they began traveling through the United States and Canada playing traditional Hawaiian and Samoan music.
Toafili’s father, also named Lawrance, was born in Chicago and moved to St. Petersburg at an early age. That’s where the family settled more than 30 years ago. They routinely played music and held luaus on St. Pete Beach. They still perform around the area. Both the elder and younger Lawrance Toafili assist at the luas when they can.
“We do everything,” the younger Toafili said. “We have the fire sticks, we wear the necklaces and the lavalava, we do the dances. It’s a lot of fun.”
The family may be more than 7,000 miles away from American Samoa, but Masi Toafili felt it was important to keep his family’s traditions alive in Florida.
“I always talked to Big Lawrance and Little Lawrance about my culture,” Masi said. “Our culture is all about family. We have a big family and we are all proud of our heritage.”
Another family tradition is football. Masi, 57, was a running back and linebacker while in high school. The elder Lawrance played running back at Indian Rocks Christian as a freshman and sophomore. After his second season at IRC he transferred to Pinellas Park. He played in the spring game, then was kicked out of the school after an altercation.
He never played high school football again.
Now a roofer, Toafili, 35, has watched his son follow in his football footsteps.
“He’s way better than I ever would be. His highlight tape, it blows me away.”
His son has certainly been impressive since he started his varsity career halfway through his freshman year. He has run for more than 3,000 yards in an offense that utilizes multiple backs.
His four-star talent has brought offers from Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Ohio State, among others. He has also been invited to play in the Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii on Jan. 18, 2020.
Toafili may add to his offensive duties this season. With the transfer of starting quarterback Brandon Coppola, the position needs to be filled. Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said he will likely use Toafili as a part-time quarterback.
“We’ll call it Wildcat but he can throw the ball, too,” Crawford said. “He throws the ball very well. You’ve got to use all your toys.”
Toafili said he’s up for it.
“I can throw the ball if I have to,” he said. “I’d do it. Sometimes I wish I played quarterback.”
But his future is running the ball. He credits his dad for working with him whenever he could. The two often work out together when there are no team workouts.
And when Friday nights roll around in the fall, Toafili is sure to have a big cheering section. Aside from his father and mother, Tamika Glasgow, his grandparents and cousins all fill a section of the bleachers.
Masi Toafili has seen plenty of football games and he couldn’t be prouder of his grandson.
“I’d say Little Lawrance is way better (than him or his eldest son),” Masi said. “I would just like to see him go to college. One step at a time. Just get through high school and then focus on which college you want to go to.”
Toafili said he will take his time before committing. No matter what happens in the future he does have one thing he would like to check off the bucket list.
“I want to visit (Samoa) with my Grandma and Grandpa just so I can visit their part of the island and see how they lived,” he said.
Masi has been back to American Samoa three times since he left the island more than 30 years ago. He would love to go back a fourth time with his grandson.
“I can see that happening,” Masi said. “I’d be proud to show him Samoa.”
Contact Rodney Page at @email@example.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.