Mulivai Pula's life journey to football success

It has been a long and winding road with detours and bumps along the way to football success for top BYU signee <b>Mulivai Pula</b>. Arguably the best running back out of Hawaii's high school ranks in the last 10-20 years, Pula still plans on wearing Cougar blue when he graduates from Dixie Junior College.

Living amid the white sands and pristine beaches of Hawaii under the green shadows of the draping Koolau mountain range, life wasn't alway paradise for young Pula.

Pula was not born into a typical LDS home. As a youngster, he was adopted by his mother's step-sister, but he slowly grew apart from his adopted family as spiritual growth became more of a priority for him.

Faced with an unsettling decision, Pula, still a young man, moved away from his adopted family to live with his uncle Kurt Fonoimoana, the father of BYU wide receiver signee Ferron Fonoimoana. Shortly after, Fonoimoana became his legal guardian.

With children of his own, Fonoimoana assumed a fatherly role, becoming the most positive influence in the young man's life. Along with his own children, he took care of Pula with guidance and nurturing. Within a more stable family influence and strong LDS church values, Fonoimoana raised Pula no different from his other children. Fonoimoana, however, encouraged Pula to visit his biological mother on weekends.

The year's passed and Pula settled comfortable into his new family environment. Luckily for Kahuku head football coach Siuaki Livai, the Fonoimoana's lived in Kahuku and it was there his athletic talent and running prowess blossomed.

Pula's aunt, Maelynn Tanoa'i, noted "the boy has some good skills carrying the ball. He is a very talented young man as a running back and we all could see it as he grew up."

Though top national QB Ben Olson received the lion's share of the press when he signed with BYU the same year, Pula did received some significant praise from one noted expert.

Greg Biggins, a nationally recognized recruiting expert from, wrote that Mulivai Pula could very well have been as good as the nation's #1 running back Lorenzo Booker -- who signed with Florida State in 2001.

Anyone who has watched Pula's exploits in Kahuku games would likely not disagree.

BYU assistant coach Steve Kaufusi who recruited Pula and Fonoimoana to BYU said "he is one of the fastest Samoan kids I've ever seen."

Along with his "brother"/cousin, Ferron Fonoimoana, Pula signed a Letter of Intent with BYU. With a documented learning disability he had struggled with for a number of years at Kahuku, BYU coach Gary Crowton received a special exemption that allowed BYU to accept Pula as a partial qualifier.

"Mulivai had a bit of a learning disability and, you know, the schools in Hawaii don't pay much attention to those things. If he could have had some direction for help, maybe things could have been much different for him now. But sometimes kids just fall through the cracks," his aunt MaeLynn Tanoa'i, who lives in Orem, Utah, explained.

Last year, away from his home for the first time in his life, Pula did not focus on completing the academic requirements necessary to become eligible to play this season.

"It was his first time he was away from home. You know, kids will be kids and sometimes they just feel free to get out and experience life. The problem was Mulivai had a hard time getting himself to class and doing his school work. It didn't help that he had a disability. We didn't want to be constantly telling him what to do, because we really did know what the deal was," Tanoa'i added.

"His learning problems and the whole situation of being out here in Utah. Those problems that happened while he was here (Pula and Reno Mahe were falsely accused of stealing and roughed up by a security guard at a local mall) were really hard on him," she said.

"He just felt free to do what ever he wanted and didn't keep up with his schooling. He learned his lesson fast."

Behind in school, Pula left BYU last fall and returned home to Hawaii. The Fonoimoana's were not happy with Pula and counseled him to re-evaluate his life and priorities.

"I danced for a little while at PCC (Polynesian Cultural Center)," Pula said.

It became apparent to Pula and his Fonoimoana family he had squandered an early opportunity to prepare and play for the Cougars. His desire to continue playing, however, remained and Kurt Fonoimoana put out feelers with various junior colleges.

The response was immediate. Pula's football skills were well known to West Coast JC's and, in the end, Pula and his family selected Dixie in St. George, Utah, over College of the Sequioas in California.

Pula has now settled back into college life, but this time with a deeper understanding and appreciation for what he must do to move to the next level.

Surrounded by close friends and former Kahuku teammates like full back Ervin Atuaia, Pula is now preparing himself for Dixie's upcoming football season. If he does as well as everyone expected out of high school, there is no doubt he will be aggressively recruited by Division 1 schools.

His uncle, Manuia Tanoai, said "Mulivai is going to do very well there. He likes it and is glad he is back in school. He's learned a lot. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't break all the rushing records at Dixie. Everyone is going to know who he is down there."

Pula visits his aunt and uncle often in Utah and remains very closely bonded to BYU Polynesian players in Provo.

"He knows that being away from home doesn't mean you can just go and do whatever now. We want to help him as best as we can to be successful. Before, he didn't think that, but now I know he does," his aunt said.

"He told me he is going to class. I asked him if he was going every day and doing his school work. He said, 'Yeah, auntie, I'm doing really good now. I go to all my classes.' I asked him if he was passing all of his classes and he said, 'Yeah auntie, I'm passing all my classes and I'm getting good grades.'"

With supportive family groups in Utah and Hawaii, Pula receives all the encouragement and support he needs to reach his goals.

"Mulivai is going to go to Dixie and get his schooling in order there. He knows he made a mistake at BYU, but he is working to get back. That's his goal, his aunt remarked.

Her husband Manuia added: "Mulivai wants to get back here to BYU. That is his plan, and he is working hard to get back and play for the Cougars."

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