Local athletes in first ever GSA Camp: ‘It’s one of a kind’

Talialaina Letoi

The first ever Giant Skillz Athletics Training Camp made its way to the Coachella Valley. The GSA program focuses on developing offensive and defensive linemen of all ages to get to the next level. For many of our local football players outside of the Yucca Valley Trojans, the football season has come to an end. However, many familiar faces made their way out Sunday morning to put in work with GSA.

“Just to be out here in the Valley it’s awesome. This is our first time and to see the turnout that we had today with the high school kids is mind-blowing for me. I didn’t even expect that number,” says CEO and founder of GSA, Chris Talamaivao.

The training camp program is run by Talamaivao and Mustafa Johnson, also widely known simply as ‘Coach Moose.’ The two have lived it and are working to pave the way for the next generations up.

Elijah Vaikona, junior lineman at Xavier Prep High School, has been to multiple camps and calls it a ‘one of a kind’ experience.

“They really know what they’re talking about. The level of training and intensity is like no other, you know,” says Vaikona. “They’ve been to the biggest stage, so to have them come out here and help me with technique and skills I need to go play at the next level is really amazing.”

A number of  local football players came out from all corners of the Coachella Valley, including Rey Pena.

“It’s good and it’s real work so they’re for sure going to put you to work,” says the senior offensive lineman from Coachella Valley High School.

Like Pena, for some it’s their first ever time training with GSA.

“It’s good, I got to get work in with new people I’ve never met before and it was a good experience,” says Chief Togafau-Paleafei, freshman lineman from Palm Springs High School.

But for his teammate, Nick Martinez, he’s been to several and all for a good reason.

“Coach Moose, Coach Chris, Coach Brock — they’re really like setting these guys up for success. They’ve taught me things I’ve never learned before and it’s really special, whatever they’re doing for like the community out here, it’s amazing,” says Martinez.

“We believe in training our boys tough especially in the trenches. It’s violent in the trenches,” says Talamaivao. “It’s constant collision. So for lack of a better term, you can’t be ‘soft’ in the trenches.”

One common takeaway from GSA for the first-timers and those who have been to their fair share of camps is it feels like a one of a kind family.

“It’s really like a family out here, you know, like the community that they bring,” says Martinez. “They’re really masterclass like the fundamentals of techniques that they teach like it’s really one of a kind.”

Vaikona and Togafau-Paleafei are two of the few Polynesian players in the Valley and agree that having Talamaivao makes a difference.

“Yeah it definitely does because they are my size and they know how to do it at my size. So it’s just to have them out here coaching is amazing,” says Vaikona. “You know, they’re really a family to me. So just to open up to my home, it is one of a kind.”

“It feels like I’m back home in Vegas. But it was good to have more Polys by my side you know going up, competing against, and getting better,” says the standout freshman, Togafau-Paleafei.

Meanwhile, Talamaivao hopes it’s the start of a new beginning here in the desert.

“I just think we felt that we can’t just have it for the kids in the Orange County region or Inland Empire. You know, we have to get out here and teach it to everyone else.”

In the end, the camp was a community effort. Aaron Gasu, head coach of the youth football program Coachella Valley Little Arabs 13u, says he was focused on bringing something special to the desert when it comes to the game of football and helping develop them both on and off the field.

In addition, a number of local football coaches came out Sunday morning to help, including Coach Mark Vargas, offensive line at Indio High School, Hondo Canela, Assistant Coach at Coachella Valley High School, and Devin Jones, owner and trainer at Empowerment SSA. Raquel Canela, the athletics administrative assistant at Coachella Valley High School was also on site ensuring everything ran smoothly and safely for all parents, student-athletes, and media.

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