After being diagnosed with epilepsy prior to the 2019 football season, former Serra standout TC Lavulo decided to step away from the gridiron at College of San Mateo.
A 2017 graduate of Serra — where he earned West Catholic Athletic League Most Valuable Linebacker honors as a senior — Lavulo had never experienced seizures until 2018, prior to playing his freshman season at CSM, but treated it as a one-time thing.
Then, on Dec. 1, 2018, just two weeks after the end of his freshman season, Lavulo experienced another seizure. This time, testing revealed the likelihood of his having recurring seizures to be 70 percent, he said. After being diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 20, he spent several weeks of deliberating until deciding to end his football career.
“I had a lot of concussions playing football,” Lavulo said. “… It came down to the pros and cons of continuing playing … how this could affect my future health and if this was worth going through.
“From there, I talked to my parents, my family, they were OK with me stepping away.”
Lavulo has suffered several seizures since then, one as recently as Sunday, the day after CSM’s home opener. With his younger brother Noah Lovulo playing as a freshman defensive end this season, TC Lavulo was in attendance with several family members, including his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
The Lavulo family is a common sight at Bulldogs home games at College Heights Stadium in recent years. TC Lavulo has had two older cousins play at CSM. The oldest, Benji Palu, went on to transfer to Cal, and is in this third season as a recruiter for the Golden Bears. His other cousin Laipeli Palu is on roster this season as a transfer junior at Cal Poly.
After ranking third in tackles for the Bulldogs in 2018, Saturday’s home opener marked the first time TC Lavulo had attended a football game in an unofficial capacity in many years. He took a grayshirt in 2017, but was still involved in CSM football operations. He did visit the CSM locker room prior to the game.
“Walking through them [Saturday], seeing them pregame, kind of gave me goose bumps,” he said. “It had me really amped up. Yeah, I wasn’t playing, but it had me amped up to see them play.”
As a 5-10, 210-pound senior at Serra, TC Lavulo didn’t receive any official offers to play at an NCAA Division I program. Even through his freshman year at CSM, there was little recruiting interest in him, he said.
His reputation on the field though played 10 feet tall, and he had the nickname to go with it. Although, the notorious nickname “Beastie” was one he was given as a child, long before he started playing organized football.
“He was an animal, man,” Noah Lavulo said. “He didn’t have the height but he had all heart. He played nasty.”
CSM freshman quarterback Luke Bottari has taken a similar trajectory. Listing at 5-11, 185 pounds, Bottari has started the first two games of the season for the Bulldogs as a true freshman, this after receiving no Division I offers out of Serra, where he set the Padres’ all-time career passing record.
Bottari and TC Lavulo played at Serra together at 2016 the year the Padres won their first of two consecutive CIF Northern Division championships before falling in the Division 2-A State Championship Bowl 42-40 to Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth.
“It was just more sadness,” Bottari said of learning TC Lavulo was stepping away from the game. “I understand why he can’t play. A baller like that, you never want to see an injury like that end someone’s career.”
TC Lavulo, though, confirmed he has no plans to return to the sport as a player. He is currently taking classes at CSM and said he hopes to transfer to a school in the Southern California area at the end of the year.
“Right now, I think I’m done,” TC Lavulo said. “I’m stepping away from the game. I can be happy looking back in what I was able to accomplish. … So right now I’m just there for my brother, coaching him. Watching him grow has been awesome.”
Noah Lavulo — who said he has dedicated this season to his older brother — is the youngest of the three Lavulo brothers. The oldest, David Lavulo, never played at CSM, instead going right from graduating Serra to playing at Humboldt State.
TC Lavulo said he intends to attend all of CSM’s games this year in support of his younger brother.
“During my decision, I told him he’s the last one,” TC Lavulo said. “So, I’ll be investing all my time into helping him.”