UVA-Tennessee Football Game Reunites Snoop, Dogg and a Unique Family

September 2, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

While one now weighs 346 pounds and the other once had a playing weight of 357, you have to imagine Tapuvae “Snoop” Leota-Amaama and Aaron “Dogg” Amaama as babies to get a feel for their nicknames.

Snoop, 19, is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the University of Virginia football team. His older brother, Dogg, 27, is a member of the football staff for the University of Tennessee, in his second year as a recruiting analyst.

For three-plus hours Saturday, they’ll be on opposite sides of the Cavaliers-Volunteers game in Nashville that kicks off the season for both programs. It’ll be one of the few instances in their young lives where parts of their family will be split on anything.

As a product of their Samoan roots, the Amaamas are a close-knit, united bunch that, over the last 13 months, have made a number of sacrifices to be with one another.

But back to the nicknames.

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Tapuvae is a family name handed down from Snoop’s mother’s side. But as an infant, Tapuvae’s actions reminded his father, Sui, of Snoopy from the “Peanuts” cartoon. He was known as Snoopy until middle school, when it was shortened to the name that now accompanies Leota-Amaama’s biography on UVA’s official athletics website.

When Aaron, who would go on to be an offensive lineman for the University of Utah, was an infant, he wore pajamas with puppies on them, leading his parents to call him “Doggy” and later “Dogg.”

Sui and his wife, Isabella Leota, have another son, Hagoth, 16, who goes by “Slim” for his slender build at a young age.

It’s all just a little slice of a unique family that will be reunited in Nashville for the game. For the Amaamas, the matchup is part on an ongoing adventure.

Portrait of Dogg and Snoop together at a high school football game

Before taking a job at the University of Tennessee, Dogg spent eight years either playing or working for Utah’s football program. Here he is with his younger brother, Snoop, at Snoop’s high school game. (Contributed photo)

Sui and Isabella raised their three boys in Eagle Mountain, Utah, a town outside of Provo with a population comparable to Charlottesville’s.

The Beehive State is also home to what Isabella estimates as “easily over 100” fellow family members, stemming from Isabella’s five siblings and Sui’s seven. The Amaamas rarely ventured far from their relatives, noting a trip to neighboring Idaho as significant.

But all that changed last summer when Snoop, after spending his first few months on Grounds, was feeling homesick. Dogg, meanwhile, after eight years either playing or working for Utah’s football program, was on the brink of taking a new job at Tennessee.

The sequence of events soon put Sui, Isabella, Slim and their two 120-pound dogs – Koko, a mastiff-Labrador mix, and Reese’s, a French mastiff – in a moving truck to Virginia.

They’ve been in Charlottesville since last August, closest to Snoop, but also a five-hour drive to Dogg in Knoxville.

“It’s meant a lot to me,” said Snoop, who recently added “Leota” to his surname to represent his mom. “Family is very important to me, important to my culture. With me coming out here all the way from Utah, having my family here with me now to back me up and be my support system is critical to my success.”

The same is true for Dogg.

“I’m grateful that my parents dropped everything that they knew and love to move out here to help us achieve our goals,” said Dogg, who receives frequent visits.

The drastic move, helped by the fact that both Sui (a talent acquisition manager for a construction company) and Isabella (an accountant for an equipment company) could work remotely, has come with no regrets. Above all else, including a newfound love for this part of the country and its people, the couple is honored to pay forward a deed they once gained.

Both Sui and Isabella are products of parents who migrated to the United States from Samoa, a group of islands in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Sui, as a kid, joined his folks when they came from there to California. Isabella’s parents arrived in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Each journey had the same intention.

“Our parents gave up friends, families to come to America so they can give us, the children, a head-start on life,” Sui said. “So why couldn’t we reciprocate that same kind of sacrifice and say, ‘You know what, I’m gonna put my family and friends and the demographics that I’m used to and go to somewhere that’s completely different?’”

Family, Sui said, is the highest unit in Samoan culture and the Amaamas work on it constantly.

Sui preaches the phrase, “Don’t be the employee of the month and then call in sick on your family.”

94% On-Time Graduation Rate Pleases 100% of Parents, to be great and good in all we do
94% On-Time Graduation Rate Pleases 100% of Parents, to be great and good in all we do

“We do checkups in the car where we drive around and talk to each other,” he said. “Or we’ll sit down at a dinner table. Whatever it takes to make it happen, we’ll make it happen.”

Sui, Isabella and the boys, including Slim, who attends Monticello High School and plays volleyball, gathered together July 4 at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as Sui became an American citizen at the annual naturalization ceremony.

True to his heritage at the event, Sui wore a Samoan ula fala, a ceremonial lei-like necklace donned by high chiefs on special occasions. The wearer of the ula fala is showing, among other things, a level of respect to the moment at hand.

Snoop wore his ula fala to the funerals of his UVA teammates Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry following their tragic deaths last November.

“We were so proud of Snoop for doing that,” Isabella said. “He had a close bond with those boys. And I think that out of respect and the love that he had for them, it meant a lot to him to wear that. And we were fully supportive of it.”

It’s rare when the Amaamas aren’t unified on something. But on Saturday, Isabella and Sui, who will be seated among at least a dozen family members at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, say they’ll be rooting for Snoop and the Cavaliers when they face Dogg and the Volunteers.

A big reason stems from the game’s significance for their new home.

The Wahoos are playing for the first time since they lost Chandler, Davis and Perry.

“It's so emotional to our family, not just because our sons are involved, but because the community ... we’ve fallen in love with Virginia,” Sui said. “We love everything around us. So we’re 100% behind (UVA head football) coach (Tony) Elliott and his staff, we believe in them.

“We’re proud of both schools, but this is something that we, as a state – Virginia as a state –needs. We need this.”

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Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications