Anthony Vaeao must have been looking forward to graduation from Mission Hills High. After leaving the San Marcos, Calif., school, he was headed to Arizona Western College to play junior college football. A 6-foot-3, 300-plus-pound lineman, Vaeao perhaps could have gone on to a major-college program.
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He was obviously eager to get going. On Wednesday, he posted on his Facebook page: “Just had a meeting w my college coach papers are set and im ready to go. Thank yu lord.”
But Anthony Vaeao won’t be walking across the stage to get his diploma and won’t be stepping on the football field this fall.
He died on Thursday.
According to Southern California media reports, Vaeao collapsed during a pickup basketball game in the school gym and was dead by the time paramedics arrived at Mission Hills High.
Vaeao was described as popular with classmates, and the school community responded Thursday night by staging a candlelight vigil at the Mission Hills football stadium.
"He was just the coolest kid," Liz Delaney of San Marcos, who said her son played on the school’s football team with Vaeao, told the North County Times. "He was just such a presence, this huge Samoan with this big smile."
YouTube video of Vaeao, designed to help attract the attention of college recruiters, showed the massive offensive lineman flattening opponents, moving nimbly as he pulled to lead running plays.
A Mission Hills football teammate, Aaron Leauma, told the Times about one of the final interactions with his friend, when the two ended up going home separately after having ridden together with their dates to the prom:
"His last text to me said, ‘We ride together, we die together,’" Leauma said, crying. "It’s too soon, man. It’s too soon."