By Dymond McElrath & Natalia Ahrens
At the end of last spring semester, the McPherson College community suffered a great loss. Jireh Tooala-Leaupepetele, a sophomore psychology major and football player, died in a single car accident on his way home to San Bernardino, California, on May 18, 2022. Jireh was a member of the McPherson College football team where he played running back and was later moved to linebacker. His college teammate, Senior Cory “Duce” Chairs, described Jireh as funny, cool, and a laid-back guy. “No matter what was going on, Jireh was always one of those guys who wanted to see you do good. He wanted his teammates around him to be better than him and do the things he could no longer do.” Unfortunately, Jireh suffered a season-ending knee injury early his sophomore season, and rather than isolating himself from the team or football, he joined the film crew and created a new role for himself on the team.
The McPherson Football team now honors him with helmet stickers with his initials, JTL. Head football coach Jeremiah Fiscus said it makes him feel good that these stickers are worn, because “we have a close team, it was one of their ideas. The players have respect and love for one another.”
Jireh is missed by many of his teammates, on and off the field. Junior teammate and friend, Christian Davis, says that wearing the helmet stickers makes him feel like Jireh’s still with us, and, “even though he can’t be with us physically, my bro will always be here in spirit.” His parents, Sia and Pio Aukuso, are also very moved by the wearing of these helmet stickers. “We are humbled and blessed for such a great honor. I prayed that someway, somehow Jireh had made an impact in any of the lives of the players and people he came in contact with.”
Services for Jireh were held on June 9, 2022, at Sunrise Church in Rialto, California. To know Jireh was to love him. Friends described him as fun, loving, and a selfless classmate. He made such a positive impact on everybody he met. Life is short, and Jireh’s death only makes that statement truer. His death took a toll on many students and faculty members at McPherson. Even if people did not know him personally, Jireh was a familiar face around campus and his presence is missed every day.
Picture of Jireh from McPherson College’s Facebook page; Picture of helmet taken by Austin Siegal.