"When I was on my mission, BYU had heard about me," Manumaleuna Utu said. "I was serving in Las Vegas and had just gotten home from my mission. That same Wednesday when I got back home, I hadn't even gotten out of my proselytizing clothes yet. Coach Kaufusi was down here checking out some schools and was down here at Compton J.C."
Prior to his mission, Manumaleuna Utu played in three games before breaking his wrist year during his freshman season at Compton.
Upon returning home from his mission, Manumaleuna Utu went about planning for his football future.
"I had been trying to figure out what to do about playing football, so I called my head coach at Compton Junior College before I came home asking him about what's going on and what I needed to do. My head coach wanted to meet with me, so I came down there. When I was talking to him he said Coach Kaufusi was down here recruiting in Southern California. He was looking at all the high schools down here."
The Cougar coaches had already become aware of the hidden gem from Samoa.
"BYU got a hold of my film when I was on my mission," Manumaleuna Utu said. "Coach Kaufusi and Coach Mendenhall had both watched my film when I was in high school and they both liked it. When he saw me at Compton College, Coach Kaufusi was really excited."
Although Manumaleuna Utu hadn't played football in two years, and had yet to enroll at Compton Junior College, Coach Kaufusi spoke with him and expressed interest.
"Kaufusi gave me Coach Mendenhall's number that Wednesday, and so I call him up that Wednesday night," said Manumaleuna Utu. "We didn't talk much about football, it was all about church and football and planning for the future. At the end of our conversation he said, ‘We wanted to offer you a scholarship and we want you to play for BYU.' That's when Coach Mendenhall offered me a scholarship.
"You know, BYU is a school that I want to play for, so I committed to him right then and there, you know. I gave him my verbal commitment that I will play for them after I graduate next spring. I told him to wait for me because I still have one more year of college left before I graduate.
"I still have one more year left of school and have 22 units already. I'll be done and will graduate next spring. I plan on signing with BYU after I graduate. That's the plan. I'm not going to play at all this next year. I plan on just focusing on graduating so I can have four years to play three. I could play this year but I don't want to take the risk of being injured again. I'll just focus on school work and then playing at BYU."
What adds to the remarkable nature of Manumaleuna Utu's BYU scholarship offer is that he's only had a little more than two years of actual football experience.
"I grew up in Upolu, Samoa for the first 14 years of my life," he said. "I moved to New Zealand to go to school there. I was there for a year and I was playing rugby. My parents lived in America. When I was born, they moved to American Samoa, then moved to the states. I hadn't really gotten a chance to see or know my real parents, so when I started living in New Zealand, I got close to my sister because I was talking to her.
"My sister convinced me to come visit, so I came up to Compton to visit about five or six years ago. When I came out here I wanted to stay, so I went to Dominguez High School and started learning about football. I played my first down of football when I was in the 10th grade. They put me on the d-line and I didn't really know much about football. It just felt like a scrum to me."
Despite the fact that he only had two years of prep ball under his belt, some schools began to take a look at Manumaleuna Utu.
"When I talked to my head coach, he said that Florida State was looking at me, as well as other schools," Manumaleuna Utu said. "I never got any scholarships though and that's why I went to Compton J.C. and played for a year there. I didn't even finish my year there because I got hurt. I broke my wrist, but I still have film from high school, so that could speak for itself and it did to Coach Mendenhall and Coach Kaufusi when I was on my mission."
Manumaleuna Utu is grateful for the opportunity he's received since returning home from his mission.
"You know, getting a scholarship offer from BYU right after I get home from my mission is just one of the blessings I've received," Manumaleuna Utu said. "When I got that number from Coach Kaufusi and called up Coach Mendenhall and heard his voice, I knew that BYU was the place I needed to be and that's who I needed to play for. I knew that he had a testimony and that he believed what I believed. Just coming home off my mission, I know BYU is where I need to be.
"It's just incredible and really a blessing how this all has worked out for me. I can't even explain it. When I told Coach Mendenhall that I was committing to him, he was just so happy. I told him why I wanted to go there and he just said thank you and to keep talking to Coach Kaufusi."
Manumaleuna Utu now plans on visiting BYU next Friday.
"I'm coming up there to check things out and I'm really excited about it. I studied Ray Maualuga a lot and he was kind of my role model when I was playing, so I'm aggressive and hit hard and go all out like he did. I might make mistakes but I do it playing as fast and as hard as I can."
Manumaleuna Utu will be driving up to BYU with another Cougar recruit that BYU is taking a serious look at. It just so happens that Manumaleuna Utu is the cousin of big 6-foot-5-inch, 350-pound Cerritos Junior College defensive tackle Ma'ataua Brown.
"I just talked to his mom today and his mom said he could come with us, so we're coming up there together," said Manumaleuna Utu.
Brown had originally committed to the Washington Huskies out of Paramount High School and was rated the 51st best defensive tackle in the country.
"I asked him who was looking at him and told me that a couple of colleges were looking at him," said Manumaleuna Utu. "I told him that he needs to take advantage of the situation that BYU might give him, so he's going to come up with me next Friday."
Now that Manumaleuna Utu has committed to BYU, what does Brown think of possibly playing alongside his cousin?
"Coach Kaufusi said he wanted both of us to play together at BYU," said Brown. "I think it would really cool to play with my cousin. I would like that."
Along with being related to Brown, Manumaleuna Utu is also closely related to current BYU defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna.
"I'm related to his dad, Roy," Manumaleuna Utu said. "His grandfather is related to my dad, and so we're closely related. I think we're second cousins."