Vainuku meets with Coach Mendenhall

On Tuesday, big 6-foot-3-inch, 295-pound defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku attended BYU's camp. He went through a series of camp drills under the tutelage of Coach Kaufusi, and put his strength (365-pound bench and 405-pound squat) to good use. However, it was following the camp that Vainuku received a valuable lesson while sitting in the office of BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

It was a good day for East High School defensive lineman Vaha Vainuku. His size, strength and athleticism were put on display during the one-on-one part of the camp, as well as during the team scrimmage.

"We did drills when we first got there," Vainuku said. "We did position drills for about 30 or 40 minutes. Then after that we did one-on-ones, and then we scrimmaged and that was about it."

Coaching the defensive linemen was BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi and his younger brother Jason Kaufusi, who coaches at Weber State.

After Vainuku was worked out at the camp, Coach Kaufusi saw his ability as a potential Division I defensive lineman, but there was something more pressing on the Cougar coach's mind that he wanted to speak to Vainuku about.

"I like Steve and he's a good guy," Vainuku said. "He coaches me up a lot and is teaching me a lot of things. He was talking to me a lot at the camp and really emphasized school with me. He emphasized with me getting my school work done so that maybe they could give me an offer. I really like Steve and really relate to him.

"Right now I'm good enough to get into another university, but you know how BYU has a higher standard of GPA and ACT ratio? Well, that's kind of what the deal is. BYU told me to keep it up with football, and in that area I'm doing great, but they want me to improve on my school work a little more. I'm like at a 2.9 GPA right now, but I got a 20 on my ACT, but BYU wants to see me at a 3.3 GPA.

"They said my ACT scores are good already," Vainuku continued. "They just want me to get to that 3.3 mark or the 3.2 mark and then they would pull the trigger. That's what they told me."

Following the camp, Vainuku and his rabid BYU fan of a father were invited to go to Coach Mendenhall's office for a meeting.

"We got to go to Mendenhall's office and he talked about BYU's standards and expectations and all that. It was a good experience."

Mendenhall reinforced Coach Kaufusi's position of striving for a higher academic achievement, and, in typical Mendenhall fashion, even found a way to tie in a spiritual side to the personal advice.

"One of the things Coach Mendenhall emphasized to me was how bad do I want it," recalled Vainuku. "He also brought the Church into it and how our people have to work, because without work faith is dead. He told me, 'If you really want it, you'll get it. If you're not willing to work for it, then you can go play someplace else.'"

As mentioned, Vainuke was accompanied by his father.

"My dad is a real diehard BYU fan. Like, when you come into our house, he has BYU everywhere. He has BYU clothes and he's a big-time BYU fan because of how BYU is tied to the Church. My mom is the same way. So are all my aunties and uncles and all that. I guess it's a Tongan thing with BYU and the Church.

"My dad was just flattered to be there in Coach Mendenhall's office. He watches all the games and I could just see it in his eyes, he was really happy to see Mendenhall and talk with him. My parents really want me to go to BYU. When I got my other offers they said, 'Wait! Just wait.' I think they were putting their faith and hoping that BYU would offer or something like that."

Vainuku believes a little academic improvement would yield him a BYU offer.

"I think if I would have the GPA they're looking for, I think they would have offered me. That's kind of what it seemed like. They really showed a lot of interest in me and counseled me. I really appreciated that."

Learning that his son was just a few GPA points shy of receiving a BYU scholarship, Vainuku's father turned to him and gave him some stern counsel typical of Tongan fathers.

"My dad just looked at me and said, 'You are now going to work hard!'" Vainuku said with a laugh in his voice as he mimicked his father's Tongan accent. "My dad said, 'No more play the video games! No more the cruising with friends. You're going to get down and work hard like the Coach Mendenhall said!' My dad is kind of a fob [slang for fresh off the boat], but I understand what he's saying."

With a renewed spirit, Vainuku has set his sights on a new goal in life. He wants to refocus his efforts in the classroom over this next year to reach the standard Coach Mendenhall has set for him and make his parents proud. He wants to get that coveted BYU scholarship.

"I just need to step up now and make my parents proud of me," Vainuku humbly said. "It really energized me to do better and be better. I have to really focus and try and do this and be better for my mother and father. I'm going to work harder to try and get that BYU scholarship."

Despite three offers currently on the table (Washington State, Utah State and Weber State), if Vainuku had received a BYU scholarship offer while sitting in Coach Mendenhall's office, he likely would have accepted.

"Honestly, in my heart I think I would have committed on the spot," Vainuku said. "I've grown up a BYU fan. Utah, I don't know, I guess it would be okay to play at Utah, but I've grown up a BYU fan all my life. Utah, I don't know, they're not showing much interest in me. If BYU would have offered me, I think I would have committed on the spot."

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