The little Cougar fan in the window

When Coach Mendenhall was conducting an in-home visit with a BYU recruit from Laie back in 2007, there was a little boy outside wearing a BYU hat peeking through the window quietly listening in, hoping for his chance to meet the Cougar head coach.

That little boy is now a little older, and at 5 feet 10 inches and 180 pounds, Johnny "Ku-J" Tapusoa has become Kahuku High School's do-everything player while on the way to another state championship.

Kahuku defeated Punahou 30-24 to win the 2011 state championship on November 25. It was the Red Raiders' first state title since 2006, but their sixth in the last 11 years.

"My main position this year is inside linebacker, but depending on the personnel on the field, they can put me anywhere," Tapusoa said. "I can play safety, cornerback and have played rover most of the season this year. On offense, I've run the ball and don't really play receiver but could. I'm pretty quick I would say."

During the semifinals against Leilehua High School last year when he was a freshman, Tapusoa had 11 tackles and three sacks. Although undersized for middle linebacker at the Division I level, he did really well playing in the box this season.

"I think I did really well," he said. "Our teammates really helped us out and our defense is pretty solid. All I had to do were my responsibilities and make plays and allow my teammates to make plays as well."

About four years ago some Cougar coaches, including Coach Mendenhall, flew out to Hawaii for an in-home visit with Tapusoa's cousin, Shiloah Te'o. Te'o signed with BYU as a member of the 2008 recruiting class and played in 2009 before being dismissed for rules violations.

"I just got home from the park and my mom told me that the coaches were at Shiloah's house visiting," recalled Tapusoa. "It had always been a dream of mine to play at BYU since I was a little kid, so I was really excited because I use to read this book about BYU that my teacher game me. It was a book about when BYU won the national championship. I went in and grabbed that book and put on my BYU hat and ran down to Shiloah's house.

"I ran up there and I was staring through the window. Someone said, ‘Hey, who is that?' and I said, ‘Uncle, it's me Ku-J!' Then he said for me to come inside."

That uncle was David Te'o, Shiloah's father.

"Ku-J was standing outside the window peeking in and listening to the coaches when they were in my house talking with Shiloah," recalled David. "I saw him out there looking in from behind the screen and said, ‘Excuse me Coach Mendenhall, my little nephew is standing outside peeking through the window and he's a big BYU fan.' I called Ku-J to come in, so he did and was so excited to see Coach Mendenhall sitting in my living room."

Tapusoa sat nearby starry-eyed and listening intently.

"I was just sitting close by listening to the coaches talk to Shiloah about the honor code, and what the expectations are in order to play at BYU," Tapusoa said. "I had never been in the same room as a college head coach before. It really great for me and, I don't know, I was just excited because I had never been in the same room with a college head coach before."

"He's just a great kid," David said about Tapusoa. "He's good on the field, good in the classroom and good off the field. He really is one kid that would do very well at BYU and represent the Church and the program in a positive way."

After the coaches visited with Shiloah, his mother Kelly put in a video of Tapusoa doing the Haka when he was in Pop Warner football and showed them his highlights. Coach Mendenhall signed Tapusoa's book and hat.

"Ku-J had a big ole smile on his face," said David. "Coach Mendenhall shook his hand and said, ‘When you get older, I'm going to keep an eye on you personally.'"

Tapusoa still remembers that moment.

"Yeah, Coach Mendenhall said, ‘Johnny, I know you're too young right now, but I like the way you play. I look forward to seeing you later on during your senior year in2013.' I was around 12 or 13 years old at that time."

Although it's been a long time since he first met the awestruck little boy with a BYU hat on, Coach Mendenhall kept his word.

"They send me letters every once in a while and I go to the BYU camp and got the MVP award," said Tapusoa. "I've talked to Coach Kaufusi a couple of times, and they came down for the [Hawaii] game and I went over there for the fireside BYU had before the game.

"I have to go out of my way to talk to Coach Mendenhall and I can't wait to talk to him one day. My mom and dad really want me to go there, so I have to go the extra mile. My mom always pushes me and always wants me to email him as much as I can. She inspires me a lot by how hard she works, so she expects that out of me."

In addition to attending BYU's fireside in Hawaii, Tapusoa also got to attend the game between the Warriors and Cougars on December 3.

"I came in as a University of Hawaii recruit and had tickets, so I was on the field," Tapusoa said. "My mother told me that I had to wear neutral colors, and so I wore a red Kahuku shirt. "

However, after the game Tapusoa made it a point to seek out Mendenhall.

"After the game, I went and stood there and waited for Coach Mendenhall to come so I could say hi to him," recalled Tapusoa. "That's when I met Coach Mendenhall by the bus after the game, and he introduced me to his wife. It was really short but it was good to see him."

While Tapusoa couldn't really talk much with Coach Mendenhall, he is trying to prove himself worthy in every way of a BYU scholarship. He currently holds a 3.5 GPA and keeps his sights set on his dream of one day playing for BYU.

In fact, even Shiloah is pulling for him and hoping that one day he'll end up being a BYU Cougar.

"One day when Shiloah saw Coach Mendenhall – and this was after he had left BYU for Oregon State – he told him, ‘Don't forget about my little nephew back home,'" said David Te'o. "Shiloah knows BYU is a great place to be and wanted to remind Coach Mendenhall not to forget about his little cousin Ku-J."

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