Gautavai commits to BYU
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Gautavai commits to BYU

It sort of came from out of nowhere. Bountiful High School linebacker Rylee Gautavai was offered a scholarship to BYU this week and quickly committed. BYU fans hope that Gautavai can do for BYU what another Bountiful High School linebacker in Cameron Jensen did while suited up in Cougar blue.

It wasn't that long ago that Bountiful High School middle linebacker Rylee Gautavai, who is of Samoan descent, beeped on the BYU Cougar football radar.

"They really didn't start recruiting me until last June when I went to a Junior Day," said Gautavai. "I really kind of popped their attention at that time. Then about six weeks into the season they really started coming after me heavy. They invited me down for a visit six weeks into the season, and then they invited me back down on Wednesday and then [Thursday] they offered me."

Meanwhile, another school was making a push for Gautavai's services.

"I know Arizona was knocking on the door for him as well," said Alema Te'o, founder of the All-Poly Camp. "Robert Anae contacted us about him. He at least talked to me about him but I don't know if he talked to the head coach inquiring about Rylee or not. But Arizona was taking a look at him.

"One reason why I think he was so under the radar is because he's not as heavy as a lot of those guys coaches often look for as middle linebackers. They usually look for guys that are around 6'1", 225, but Rylee is around 6'1", 195-to-205 right now. But the guy's got mad skills and he's going to be an outstanding linebacker at the next level. I can tell you that right now."

While he may have gone under the radar, recruiting picked up for Gautavai on Wednesday.

"First off, I got a Facebook message from one of the coaches who told me to grab my parents and come down there to Provo because Coach Mendenhall wanted to talk to me," said Gautavai. "We booked it down to Provo, and when we got there we met with Coach Mendenhall. He outlined the expectations and talked about how BYU was unlike any other school."

He had his suspicions that he could receive an offer from BYU.

"I kind of had it in the back of my mind, because the coaches kept saying they really wanted me there," said Gautavai. "It was just a matter of finding room for me and finding a scholarship. I knew it was going to come, but didn't know when. It was definitely a surprise when it finally did come.

"He then handed me a paper and said for me to read this. The paper basically said that they wanted to offer me a full-ride scholarship. Me and my parents were pretty emotional because we had been working hard for this. Coach Mendenhall told me that I didn't have to commit on the spot, but I told him, ‘Coach, this is where I've always wanted to be, and so I feel good about committing right here and now.'"

Gautavai and his family have been BYU fans for a long time.

"Well, first off my family has strong roots in the LDS church," said an excited Gautavai. "We live by all the teachings and we love the Church, and so that's one of the reasons why we love BYU. Both of my parents went to BYU, and so just that whole church atmosphere down there and how great of a school it is as a top-notch university is why I love BYU. That's why we cheer for BYU."

The interesting back-story on Gautavai is that he only recently started playing football in high school.

"Rylee is a three-year starter for us," said Te'o. "He came up as a ninth grader, you know, and played his sophomore, junior and senior year and just got better and better every year he played for us. He's got great instincts and an incredible nose for the football."

"My first start was the third game of my sophomore year," said Gautavai. "Going into that year I knew I had a good shot of starting but I didn't know when. I just kept working and learning as much as I could. By the time the third game came around, I was starting.

"I was second on the team in tackles my sophomore year. Then my junior year I had around 120 tackles. This year I got 116 tackles, but the thing about this year is I was pulled from most of the games at halftime. I probably could have had more tackles, but I still did really well."

"Football aside, he's a Bronco Mendenhall-type kid and really bought into everything BYU," said his father, Carson Gautavai. "As a player he's very gifted athletically. He's very raw and kind of started playing football late. He mostly played soccer from the age of five. That was his sport and he played competitively for many years and played on a number of state championship teams and played all over the West Coast in tournaments in high-level soccer."

A physical soccer player, Gautavai decided to give football a try.

"About the eighth grade he decided to play football, and, with all that development he gained playing competitive soccer year-round, by the time he put on his pads we knew it was something very exciting to see," said Carson. "He took to it very well."

Then Bountiful's Coach Te'o and Coach Wall saw him out on the field. The inner gears began to stir and a little football nudge was given.

"I saw him as a ninth grader and he didn't play football, he played soccer," said Te'o. "He didn't play little league football and didn't play before. He grew up a soccer player, but he came in here in his ninth-grade year and I could tell right away that this kid could play football. Some of those guys have a special thing about him and Rylee is one of those kids."

"Coach Wall and Coach Te'o at Bountiful High School were able to get him into the football program his ninth-grade year," said Carson. "Ever since then he's excelled from there. He's been a starter at the high school level since the third game into his sophomore year at the varsity level.

"He was second on the team in tackles that year, despite missing three games. His senior year he led the team in tackles and was an all-state player and recognized as a team captain. He's probably going to finish in the top two in 4A, and probably in the top five in the state, in leading his team in tackles. His stats show that he's amassed around 306 tackles for that amount of time he's played."

For being raw to the game, Gautavai has put up some incredible stats from the middle linebacker position.

"I love contact and I love being physical on the field," Rylee Gautavai said. "I love to fly around and that's something I love to do. I was at BYU's practice on Wednesday and that was something that really stuck out to me about BYU's defense. They just fly around and it shows in the game, so I love to do that and think I'll fit right in flying around from sideline to sideline."

"He could be one of those hybrid kind of guys that can be a safety and a linebacker, but you know our people bro," said Te'o concerning growth characteristics found in Polynesian genes. "He's still going to go on his mission and he could come back and be around 6'2" and 230. I think he'll come back 15-to-20 pounds heavier and will play middle linebacker, and when he does, watch out because he's going to be a good one.

"Rylee is a kid of few words. He speaks with his actions. He's definitely a solid leader on and off the field and that's what you want from a middle linebacker. He's just a solid leader to this team and has been all year. In the classroom he's a 3.8-to-4.0 GPA type of kid, and so he's solid all the way around and a great leader in the senior class. The level of integrity with this kid is great and he has a great work ethic and I really believe that BYU got themselves a great one here. He's going to absorb everything he's given at the next level. I think BYU will be a perfect fit for him."

Gautavai will leave and serve an LDS mission the summer right out of high school. In the meantime, he is thrilled to have the opportunity to play for BYU.

"You know, it's a great honor for me to be mentioned or considered a part of BYU's football program," said Gautavai. "For them to think that highly of me as a defensive football player is an honor. I can't thank them enough for the thoughts they have of me both as a person and as a player who can continue holding up the standards of a top-rated defense. It's really incredible and an honor."

In closing, Gautavai wanted to express a few words to Cougar fans around the world.

"I want the Cougar nation to know that I'm going to work my tail off every single day that I'm there," Gautavai said. "I have a deep love for the university and for the football program. I'm so excited to get to work down in Provo. Go Cougars!"