Sal Aunese
Colorado BuffaloesNo. 8
Date of birth: (1968-05-08)May 8, 1968
Place of birth: Oceanside, California
Career history
High school: Vista (Vista, California)
Bowl games
Freedom Bowl (Dec. 1988)
Career highlights and awards
1987 Big 8 Newcomer of the Year

Siasau "Sal" Aunese (May 8, 1968 – September 23, 1989) was a college football player who played for the University of Colorado. Aunese was from Oceanside, California in San Diego County and was of Samoan descent.[1] He died at age 21 from inoperable stomach cancer and lung cancer.[2][3]

Early lifeEdit

Born in Oceanside in northern San Diego County, Aunese was raised there with his six siblings. His parents spoke Samoan at home growing up. He was an All-American Quarterback at Vista High School, where he and his teammates won not only the C.I.F. San Diego section championship, but also the state championship. He attracted interest from several college programs including the University of Nebraska and the University of Colorado.[1]

Aunese's final high school transcript and his low ACT scores caused him to fall under the 1983 Convention Proposal No. 48, commonly referred to as Proposition 48.[1] Because of this provision, he missed the freshman year of his college career.

College careerEdit

Aunese chose Colorado after heavy recruiting from assistant coach Les Miles and head coach Bill McCartney.[4] Because of the Prop 48 conditions, Aunese missed his first year of eligibility with the team in 1986. He came into the 1987 season and soon took over the starting job at quarterback that same year; he led the Buffaloes to a 7–4 record, but no postseason bowl game. Aunese was awarded the Big Eight Newcomer of the Year award after the season. Colorado was 8–3 in the 1988 regular season, but lost to Brigham Young in the Freedom Bowl.[5][6]

Illness and deathEdit

During his participation in the Freedom Bowl, coaches, players, and family noticed that Aunese was not his usual self. Teammates told him he looked sluggish on the field and family members wished he would be taken out of the game.[1] In the months following the bowl game, Aunese experienced a multitude of symptoms, including coughing consistently, a loss of appetite, and vomiting blood, which caused him to miss many workouts and drills.

Aunese was examined in March 1989 and doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of inoperable stomach cancer.[7] He was given six months to live after his initial diagnosis. Over the course of the next several months, Aunese continued to visit Colorado games and practices, but he continued to get weaker from the cancer and died at University Hospital in Denver on September 23.[3]

Aunese's memorial service was held in Boulder at Macky Auditorium on the university campus.[8] It was filled to capacity with over 2,000 mourners, and hundreds more outside.[2] He was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park located in Oceanside, California. The football team dedicated the season to Aunese, customizing the team's jerseys with the name "Sal" sewn into their sleeves. They went 11–0 in the regular season, but lost to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.[6][9] The Buffaloes did win the Orange Bowl rematch against Notre Dame by a point the following season,[10] earning its only national championship – a title it shared with Georgia Tech.[11][12]

The international award-winning documentary feature film, Born To Lead: The Sal Aunese Story, chronicles the life of Sal Aunese. The film world premiered on November 20, 2016 at the FICTS International Olympic Committee Film Festival in Milan, Italy. The film won 'Best First Time Director' as well as 'Best Documentary Film'. Born To Lead: The Sal Aunese Story went on to become an Academy Award (Oscar) Qualified Film for Best Documentary Feature Film during the 2017-2018 Academy Award Season. The film made its U.S.A. premiere at The Boulder International Film Festival on March 03, 2017. The film has gone on to incredible success as it has had several national telecasts on The CBS Sports Network. For more information, please visit

Personal lifeEdit

Aunese is the father of former LSU football player and current Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach Timothy Chase "T.C." McCartney, born to him and Kristy McCartney, the head coach's daughter, in April 1989. He was recruited to LSU by Les Miles, the former Colorado assistant who helped bring the elder Aunese to Colorado in 1986.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 ESPN OTL: Full Circle
  2. 2.0 2.1 Remembering Sal Aunese: Friends Pay Tribute to Aunese
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named cmqbdt
  4. All in the family: Miles coaches son of late QB recruit
  5. "BYU uses 'reliever' to beat Buffaloes". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press ((Oregon)): p. 1B. December 30, 1988.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Colorado Historical Scores
  7. "Colorado quarterback stricken by cancer". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press ((Oregon)): p. 2B. March 31, 1989.
  8. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named fwmemser
  9. Warner, Rick (January 2, 1990). "Irish 'Rocket' past No. 1 Buffs". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press ((Spokane, Washington)): p. B1.
  10. "'Lucky' Buffs breathe a sigh, await poll title". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press ((Spokane, Washington)): p. B1. January 2, 1991.
  11. Preston, Mike (January 3, 1991). "College polls deliver split decision". Eugene Register-Guard. (Baltimore Sun) ((Oregon)): p. 1D.
  12. "No. 1 Colorado wrecks Tech's dream". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press ((Spokane, Washington)): p. D1. January 3, 1991.

External linksEdit

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