BYU gets first Tongan quarterback commit

Thursday marks history for the BYU Cougar football program, with its first ever commit from a Tongan quarterback. Servite High School junior-to-be Neil Pau'u, the younger brother of BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u, committed quickly after being offered on Thursday.

Neil Pau'u is an athlete with good size (6 feet 3 inches, 190 pounds) who played quarterback and wide receiver for Servite High School in Southern California last year. Following his performance at BYU's summer camp, Pau'u was offered a full-ride scholarship by Coach Mendenhall.

"I want to be the first Tongan quarterback at BYU," Neil said. "I just think it's such an honor and really is something special. I just now want to try and improve in every way. Now I have to go back and work even harder to improve my quarterback skills and overall athleticism."

Following the camp, the Pau'u family went in to see Coach Mendenhall.

"We went into the office this morning around 9:00," said Neil's father Uepi. "He was the quarterback MVP at the All-Poly Camp and then he came here to BYU and was the quarterback MVP there. It's been a great week for my son and my wife [Tupou] and I am just so proud of him."

"I'm just so grateful to get a scholarship from BYU," said Neil. "BYU is the only school that teaches tradition, spirit and honor and also leadership. Before I got offered, [Coach Mendenhall and I] really didn't talk football that much. It really is an honor and a blessing for me and I'm so excited."

The entire Pau'u family – minus Butch, who is in summer school – was in Coach Mendenhall's office on Thursday. The experience really hit home and was a memorable one for the Pau'u family.

"Coach Mendenhall is a scriptural kind of guy," said Uepi with a laugh in his voice. "When you go into his office, be prepared to be taught by him. He talked about the purpose of BYU and the purpose of the football program. Everything over there is the Lord first. He talked about how important our family is and about how important our education is. He talked about the football team and leadership that comes with going to BYU.

"He then read a passage from Gordon B. Hinckley about how we must all be leaders in our own lives. He talked about how he tries to influence his football team to live this way and all become personal leaders in their lives."

Delving into the scriptures as he often does, Coach Mendenhall then reflected upon one particular story from the Book of Mormon.

"He also talked about the flag and the symbolism of the BYU flag, said Uepi. "He talked about Moroni and how he tore his shirt and wrote on it important values that he wanted his people to follow. It was so nice and we were touched. It was really spiritual. I'm just so proud of my son to have the opportunity to be at a place where those important things are taught. He talked about the morals and values associated and asked my son if he would be able to handle it."

"Yeah, Coach Mendenhall really is a spiritual man and we talked about the flag bearer and where the flag bearer came from," said Neil. "He talked about Captain Moroni and where it all started. It was really great to hear about all that and how it all fits in at BYU."

Neil talked about how different Coach Mendenhall is from other Division I head coaches

"He's been under so much counsel from the General Authorities, and told me today that if I don't live by these principles and live by my faith, then this isn't the school for me," Neil said. "He was straightforward with all of us. If he changed just a little bit, he would be just like all the other coaches out there."

Uepi, meanwhile, talked about what set BYU apart from other schools.

"We are always trying to teach our kids to be better and to not just go with the flow and be mediocre," said Uepi. "As a father, I'm always teaching our kids the importance of following the gospel. In the gospel, there is a natural attachment to want to become better and not settle for less, whether that's in education and raising the standard, in becoming better people and even in becoming better athletes. That's why we're so happy that our son has committed to BYU, because this is expected here. As a father, this is a dream come true and [Mendenhall] asked my son if he could handle these expectations."

Neil replied with confidence to Coach Mendenhall that he could live by the five standards he's laid out.

"He went over five points of religion, family, education, football and leadership," said Neil. "You can find all of that at BYU."

When asked about these things, Neil answered them as best he could, although he had some help.

"My sisters were there to kind of help me with some of the questions," said Neil with a laugh.

Coach Mendenhall was apparently impressed with Neil's sisters Sisi and Hea, who are twins.

"Coach Mendenhall said, ‘Well, forget you, I'm going to offer the scholarship to the twins,'" Neil said.

"It was kind of funny," said Hea. "[Mendenhall] was asking [Neil] all these questions, and he didn't know some of them, so me and my sister Sisi had to help him out with some of them."

As mentioned earlier, Neil committed quickly after receiving his offer.

"My goal was to go to BYU and get a scholarship to help my parents so they wouldn't have to pay for it," said Neil. "When I got the scholarship I knew in my heart that I wanted to commit. I was going to keep my options open, but after seeing how happy my brother is by being here, I just felt I needed to commit to BYU. I committed to Coach Mendenhall. I'm a Cougar."

"It was really hard to hold in the emotions as a parent," Uepi said. "I just couldn't hold in my emotions in and, man, I have a lot of them because of the love and concern we felt. My son has worked so hard and has come a long way. The love my son has for BYU, it's a real honor for him. My wife was just crying.

"I called our coach [Troy Thomas] back home at Servite and he was so surprised. [Neil] hasn't really started a game at Servite as a quarterback. [Thomas] said, ‘Man, that really is a miracle.'"

Although he's an athlete that can play multiple positions, Neil has one position in mind.

"Right now I plan on going to BYU as a quarterback," Neil said. "I've played quarterback and wide receiver at Servite, but I'm going to BYU as a quarterback. I want to just continue to grow and get better and there's always improvements I can make. I can always become a better leader and I want to make sure that I be the best I can be in everything I do."

"You have to really hand it to Servite High School, which is a private Catholic high school that is a college prep school," said Uepi. "I was talking to Butch this morning and he said Servite High School had prepared him for BYU and made it much easier for him. This is a Catholic school with the same values and higher expectations for those that attend. There really is a big connection there at Servite and BYU. A majority of the kids there are Catholic and they teach the same principles of leadership, religion and education and being as best as you can. It has really helped my sons prepare for the next level."

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