Coach Mendenhall fulfills his promise

It's been a remarkable day for the BYU program. The Cougars received one commit in Servite High School quarterback Neil Pau'u, and then a second from an All-Poly Camp safety MVP in Johnny "Ku-J" Tapusoa. On Thursday, Coach Mendenhall fulfilled a promise he made long ago to Tapasoa, fulfilling the dreams of a young football player.

On Thursday, Kahuku safety Johnny "Ku-J" Tapusoa received a coveted BYU scholarship offer from BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and subsequently committed. In order to understand what let up to this extraordinary moment, one must turn the clock back to the year 2007. It was a time when Coach Mendenhall was visiting a former recruit by the name of Shiloah Te'o.

"I heard that Coach Mendenhall was visiting at the home of my cousin Shiloah," said the 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound Tapusoa. "I was around 11 or 12 years old at that time, so when I heard he was here visiting I ran all the way home and put on my BYU hat and [grabbed my] BYU book and ran all the way over to my uncle David's house."

Walking up to the Te'o home, young Tapusoa crept up to the window to sneak a peek.

"I just remember looking through the window, and my uncle David told me to come in side, so I did," Tapusoa said with a laugh in his voice."

"I remember saying to Coach Mendenhall, ‘Excuse me coach, but my little nephew is peeking through the window outside and he's a big BYU fan," recalled David. "I then called for him to come inside and meet Coach Mendenhall. He was really excited."

Seeing a young boy wearing a BYU hat, Coach Mendenhall spoke to him.

"He asked me how old I was and what year I was," said Tapusoa. "I told him that I was only around 11 or 12 years old and told him that I would be graduating in 2013. He told me that he would be watching out for me and that he would be the one to personally recruit me when I get older."

"That was a great experience," said David. "I remember Coach Mendenhall saying, ‘I'm going to personally recruit you when you get older.' He then signed his book and it was just a great experience for little Ku-J at the time."

With his heart engraved in BYU stone, young Tapusoa set out to make his dream a reality. He was always told he was too short to play sports, but time and time again the heart proved bigger. As soon as the he would step out onto the field, he made doubters into believers.

"We would have the big man league over here during the seventh through ninth grade," recalled his father, Johnny Sr. "I would come back and he would still be sitting there and I would say, ‘What are you doing?' He would say, ‘They won't let me on the field.' As soon as they would give him a chance to play he would then become the starting running back or starting corner."

The same ‘you're too small' mantra was spoken time and time again. While Tapusoa would experience discouragement at times, he never gave up.

"My uncle Junior [Itula Mili] went to BYU and I've always been a BYU fans since I was a little kid," said Tapusoa. "There were times when I always wondered, ‘Man, am I going to get a chance?' I would always go to BYU's firesides and have faith in the Lord. When I would get discouraged, I would say my best prayers at that time to try to not be discouraged. After I would say my prayers I would feel peaceful and comfortable, so I just stayed focused on trying to go to BYU."

"It was the same thing his freshman year at Punahou High School," recalled Johnny Sr. "It was kind of the same thing there too, like Kahuku. They just kind of pushed him to the side until they put pads on. Then they were like, ‘Whoa, who is this guy?' Then he came back to Kahuku and he put the pads on and he played on the varsity team his sophomore year. Since then he's played linebacker, cornerback, safety, slot and a bunch of different positions. I don't think Coach Mendenhall knows what he's getting in Ku-J."

With his eye focused squarely on playing for BYU, nothing was going to deter the young man that many said would never amount to much. As Tapusoa did many times before, he would again prove them wrong.

"This is something my son has been working a long time for," said a proud Johnny Sr. "There were times when he would get discouraged and people would tell him to look elsewhere, but he never wanted to. He would tell me, ‘Dad, if I get a scholarship to BYU, I'm there. If I they don't offer me and I have to walk-on, that's what we'll do.' I would tell my son, ‘Hold on a minute, that's not cheap going to BYU, and I can't afford it.' He just looked at me and said, ‘Dad, that's the only way. I'll find a way.'"

Shiloah Te'o played at BYU in 2008 and 2009 before being dismissed from the team and transferring to Oregon State. Yet, even after leaving BYU, he was eager for his cousin to have a shot at being a Cougar.

"Even my son once told Coach Mendenhall, ‘Don't forget about my little cousin Ku-J, coach,'" said Shiloah's father David.

And he didn't. The promise made by Mendenhall years ago to that little boy – who once peeked through a window just to get a glimpse – has been fulfilled.

Following his MVP performance at the All-Poly Camp, Tapusoa made an effort to prove to Coach Mendenhall that he was deserving of an offer.

"I just went down there today and just balled out as best I could," said Tapusoa. "I just went down there and did my best. After I was done, I was called into the office to speak with Coach Mendenhall."

That's when Coach Mendenhall extended a scholarship offer to the young man he once told he would personally recruit.

"This is a dream come true," said Tapusoa. "He started out by saying, ‘I want you to walk-on one semester.' I was thinking, ‘Ah!' My heart kind of choked.

"But then he said, ‘After that you can serve your mission and then I'm offering you a full-ride scholarship to BYU.' He said he wants me on my team. I didn't know what to say and just broke down."

"When Bronco offered my son, he started crying," said an overwhelmed Johnny Sr.

The lifelong dream had finally been realized, and Tapusoa realized he would be getting a scholarship to play for the only school he's ever dreamed about playing football for.

"When [Mendenhall] said that, I realized what he was saying," said a noticeably still-choked up Tapusoa. "I just started crying. My brother Tima was in the room with me and he started crying, and so was my cousin Alema [Tautu]. We were all in tears. I looked over at Coach Howell, and I could see his eyes were getting a little bit watery. The room was filled with the Spirit."

Although Tapusoa's mother and father are back in Hawaii, he decided to take the matter into his own hands and committed to Coach Mendenhall.

"When he explained it to me that I had a scholarship to play football at BYU when I come home, I was like, ‘I'm coming coach!'" said an excited Tapusoa. "He asked me if I wanted to call my parents before I commit. I said, ‘No coach, it's fine. I want to come here and I want to be here and I'll tell them after.' He said he will give me the official written offer on August 1st. I'm coming. I'll tell them about it later."

"It was a pretty intense meeting, I'm not going to lie," said his brother Tima. "To watch the process in person was very overwhelming, especially when Coach Mendenhall gave him the offer. It just brought tears to my eyes, being an older brother, and this has been his dream since he was a little kid. This was the best feeling I've had in a while.

"I had just gotten back from my mission about eight months ago. I was kind of thinking about the feelings I got when I was feeling the Spirit on my mission when I was in that room with my little brother and my cousin Alema. I got that same feeling and felt that this is where Ku-J has to be."

Still, Coach Mendenhall asked Tapusoa to make sure his commitment to BYU was the right thing. So, he called his father in Hawaii to share the news.

"I guess when Bronco offered him today, my son broke down and started crying," said a reverent and proud Johnny Sr. "My oldest son Tima was with him in the room and he just got home from his mission around eight months ago. He's a USC fan, for whatever reason, but after that one visit with Coach Mendenhall he was basically on his lap!"

Reflecting upon all that his son has gone through over the years and coming up the victor in the end, Johnny Sr. paused. Choking back the tears, he said, "My son told me, ‘All I need is a chance to get there and play and show them I can play.' Well, he got his chance and that's all my son needed. For my son to go to BYU and play for a coach like Bronco, I couldn't be more proud. This really is a dream come true and a blessing for my son and my family."


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