Palepoi taking close look at BYU

Tenny Palepoi grew up a Utah fan but is keeping the door open with three schools. One, Utah State, offered him early, and he had committed to the Aggies at one time. After visiting with Coach Mendenhall and BYU, Palepoi has a new perspective on BYU.

After his freshman year at Snow Junior College, Tenny Palepoi was named an all-conference player and one of the top up-and-coming junior college underclassmen. After a redshirt year, and playing this past season, his performance again placed him as the top all-conference player and one of junior college's best. Naturally, his stock has increased.

"I play d-end up at Snow and that's my original position, but I know that I don't have the height that most are looking for in a d-end," Palepoi said. "I've been playing that d-tackle position and I told my coaches during the recruiting period to have colleges recruit me as a d-tackle.

"My style is more of an aggressive style. It's a more athletic basketball-type style. I'm a technician when it comes to my technique."

Palepoi's 6-foot-4-inch, 297-pound older brother Anton played his college football at UNLV before being drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks in 2003.

"A lot of what I do comes from my older brother, who has a very good knowledge of how to play the game," said Palepoi. "He played in the league for seven years, so everything I've learned, I learned from him. The position I play is the position he played as well, so my approach to the game with aggression and technique has come as a benefit of having my older brother play before me and in the NFL."

BYU, as well as Utah and Utah State, recruited Palepoi out of high school. But due to grades, he eventually made his way to Snow Junior College.

"I played my freshman year at Snow," said Palepoi. "I was expecting a big year coming back, but then during camp I tore my MCL. I tried to come back about four weeks into the season but I tore it again in practice. After that I just took as my redshirt year."

After being recruited by Coach Chad Kauha'aha'a, who at the time was coaching at Utah State, Palepoi soon committed to the Aggies.

"I tried to finish up at Snow so I could have three years to play at the Division I level," Palepoi said. "I committed to Utah State and had piled on, like, 34 credits in one semester and a summer semester, but it really didn't work out. I had to come back to Snow for one more year."

Having already redshirted one year while playing two seasons at Snow, Palepoi will now have two years to play two. He has reopened up his recruitment – after decommitting to Utah State, which he still holds among his top three – and now has many colleges vying for his services.

"BYU was recruiting me just as much as Utah was out of high school," Palepoi said. "They pulled up my transcripts and said, ‘You're going to have to go the junior college route.' BYU found out that I'm qualified and that my grades are all straight, so now I'm back on top.

"Utah and Utah State have always been there and they've known I was at Snow, so they've been waiting for me to finish up. Then Washington, Washington State and Oregon State were kind of last minute because they really hadn't heard of me too much. They knew me in high school but knew I had to go the J.C. route, but when I got hurt I kind of fell off the map with them a little. When they heard I was back this year and still on the market, they said, ‘We have to trip you out and take a look at you. We saw your film and liked it.'"

At 6 feet 2 inches and 280 pounds, Palepoi is mobile and aggressive and would be a very good two-gap player that could hold his own on the inside. That's more than likely why BYU coaches have tossed their hat in the ring for his services.

"I didn't grow up a BYU fan," Palepoi said. "My family, we all grew up Utah fans, and BYU was never in my mind and I never thought about taking a trip up there. My older brothers Francis and Anton told me to stress all my options, so then BYU comes around and they called me and told me to come down. So, I did."

Palepoi took an unofficial visit to BYU during the first week of January prior to taking his official visit. It was his first real eye-opener of what BYU is truly about.

"The week that I went up on a visit to Utah State I stopped by to visit BYU," Palepoi said. "I sat down and it was a real comfortable environment sitting in Coach Mendenhall's office. We sat down and I brought my fiancé and my daughter with me as well. He was really nice and a lot different than I expected. Everything he said was a real plus for BYU."

Later, Palepoi took an official visit to BYU. Many of the negative perceptions that had accumulated over the years were slowly peeled away, providing a brand new perspective of BYU.

"They called me and asked me to come down, and so I went down there and it wasn't what I expected," Palepoi said. "I actually really liked it. It was a lot different than what I had expected it to be."

While on BYU's campus, thoughts of the high academic and moral standards expected of the student athletes filled Palepoi's mind. During his visit, he was able to visit with Preston Hadley and Iona Pritchard and discuss those and other things.

"You know, the whole honor code and grades and stuff like that was something I didn't know if I would be able to make it," he said with a laugh. "Then I was thinking, 'Even if I do make it academically, I don't know if I'm going to be able to live by their standards.' Coming down there and learning what is expected of you and talking to the players – and that helped a lot, talking with Preston Hadley and Iona – those feelings of not being able to make it there really went away."

Hadley and Pritchard took some of the ridged edge off of Palepoi's perception of BYU.

"You know, we're athletes coming there to ball and get an education," Palepoi said. "The honor code really helps you to stay more focused and on track to accomplish your goals. If you want to be successful, that's what you have to follow. I grew up LDS and I basically grew up by those guidelines, so in that regards it wasn't too much different for me. It was just the academic standards that really had me worried."

While on campus, Palepoi had all of his academic insecurities resolved.

"I learned that BYU had a lot of resources to help us accomplish our academic goals," Palepoi said. "You know, they were telling me that they have tutors to help us for every class and to help you with your academics. They have a lot of help to keep you on track with everything, and that really helped persuade my decision a lot. It kind of helped me to put everything I needed to know about BYU with that."

Palepoi brought his older brother Francis, who also grew up a Utah fan, with him on his trip to BYU.

"[Francis] really loved the trip too," said Palepoi. "He got a chance to hang out with some of the guys and he really loved the players. I think that really helped a lot."

As for Pritchard and Hadley, Palepoi actually knew both of them prior to his visit.

"I had played with Preston Hadley my freshman year up at Snow," Palepoi said. "That's how I knew him and he's a great guy. Then with Iona, he had gone to church with me. Iona was a year older than me, but that's how I know him. We used to hang out together at church back then. He had nothing but good things to say about BYU."

So what is Palepoi looking to get mostly out of his college scholarship?

"It's more the education part that I'm looking more for than anything else," said Palepoi. "I know football won't always be here and be something I can always fall back on. It's more about education and people. I want to go to a school that's going to benefit me in meeting lots of great people and be in a fun environment. When you're around great people and in a fun environment, you have good experiences.

"Then from a football aspect, I want to go to a college that's going to help me become a better player. I want to go to a place that's going to push my talent and help me get to the next level after college."

And how did BYU match up to Palepoi's standards?

"They measured up really well," he said. "BYU's academics are really tough, and getting a degree from BYU, no matter what it is, is a big accomplishment.

"From a football standpoint, a lot of BYU's training and what they do and have tweaked and changed a little over these past few years I got to check out. On my trip I got to see what they're doing and I really like. I felt what they're now doing can really help me push myself to that next level."

When it comes to making this tough decision on where he'll end up playing for the next two years, Palepoi is going to rely on an internal feeling to show him the way.

"To me it all comes down to a feeling," Palepoi said. "So far I've only taken two official trips. I took one to Utah State the first week of January and then just this last week to BYU. I was supposed to go out to Oregon State this weekend, but I called them and let them know that I'm going to kind of take a break and just focus on school right now that I'm falling behind with all these trips. I got a good feeling about Utah State, BYU and Utah because they're all close to home. It's going to be tough."

So what was it about BYU that gave him a good feeling?

"The people," Palepoi said. "The people and the environment at BYU gave me that good feeling. I feel like BYU has that good environment where you can go to college and really focus on the importance of what college provides. It's just a good environment all around and they have a great education."

Two days ago, coaches from BYU came by and visited Palepoi for an in-home visit.

"Coach Doman and Coach Mendenhall came by to talk to me. They told me what they already had been telling me, that they could provide for me and my family and take care of me. Coach Mendenhall said that he sees me there."

Palepoi was impressed with BYU's head coach.

"I love him and he's a lot different than what I expected him to be," Palepoi said. "You know, growing up a big Ute fan, you don't hear too many good things about BYU and their players. You know, I had a certain view of him, and so when I sat down with him I saw he was a lot different than I expected. He's just a great guy."

Palepoi is currently engaged and has a young daughter. The topic of being around a team comprised of many married members was brought up during the visit.

"Yeah, they had told me about how a lot of the members of the team are married and how at their bowl game they had brought everyone's family out," Palepoi said. "I thought that was pretty cool for the families to experience what the players feel.

"Me and my fiance have a six-month-old baby girl, and having that experience where you have a child does make you grow up fast. It does make you look at the bigger picture in life and look at what's most important rather than hanging out all night and partying. You know, now I have people that will depend on me. There is no grey area. It's now all black and white, so I think that will play into my decision as well."

Although Palepoi has other offers from Washington, Oregon State and Washington State, he'll only be taking one more trip.

"Next week I'm going to pick it up for the last week with Utah, and then I'll evaluate it from there," said Palepoi. "So, that's all the trips I'll take."

After his final trip to Utah, Palepoi will then make a decision.

"You always go to a place where it just feels right, and even though I could have gone to other junior colleges, I went to Snow Junior College because it felt right. It was a feeling that I got telling me that this was the right place for me to be, so that's what I'm looking for when I take these official trips.

"That's how I'll separate what school I should go to and what school I shouldn't go to. I'm just going to wait until February 1st and then meet with my family and then make a decision."

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