Lataimua enjoys BYU visit

College of San Mateo Tongan linebacker Tevita Lataimua is considered one of the top up-and-coming middle linebackers in the country. About two weeks ago the 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound middle linebacker paid a visit to BYU. Ever since then he's been seeing blue.

Tevita Lataimua was a freshman player at San Mateo last year, posting 42 solo tackles, 87 assisted tackles, one sack and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

"It's just about applying what the coaches teach me," said Lataimua. "I just try and do what they say and learn from it."

He's also very humble and quickly to deflect any accomplishments. But, he couldn't hide his accomplishments and character from BYU's coaches, who invited him to come out on an unofficial visit a couple of weeks ago.

"I took a little visit over there to BYU on the 15th of June and I loved it out there at BYU," Lataimua said. "It's a great environment over there. The coaches are great and it's a family program and I really liked it."

His unofficial trip helped him to see BYU in a much different light than what he expected.

"Man, my trip to BYU opened my eyes big time," Lataimua said. "It's way different than any other Division I college in the country. The people around there are just so nice and welcoming. Everyone there is so willing to give you a hand.

"My dad and my little brothers came out with me. My dad was thinking BYU was just going to be another school and wanted me to look somewhere else like UCLA. After the visit he was all about BYU and, man, he loved it. He told me he would love for me to go to BYU. I think he got the picture."

When Lataimua first stepped foot on campus, he read an inscription that caught his heart.

"Man, the one thing that really got me was when you enter the school there is a sign that says, ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve,'" said Lataimua. "That is a big, big thing for me, so when I saw that and how they place an emphasis on service, it really got me.

"In the future that's what I want to do. I want to help and serve others and help younger kids. I want to help mentor and influence young kids and help them in the community. I think that is what really touched me and started off my visit off with a different perspective for me."

Visiting with the coaching staff also left an impression on Lataimua.

"When I was there talking with the coaches, it wasn't just football talk," said Lataimua. "It was more centered on me and about what I want to accomplish in life. It was about what I wanted to accomplish in 15 years. I had a long talk with Coach Mendenhall and I was thinking we were going to talk about players and football, but instead it was about my future and how we can help others, which was good to me. I really liked it a lot."

Lataimua isn't a member of the LDS faith but is a strong believer in Christianity, like most Polynesians. Mendenhall's emphasis on things besides football was refreshing and meaningful for Lataimua.

"It was just way different and I wasn't really expecting that … they are different because it's more about focusing on accomplishing what's best overall and not about what looks good. When I talk to people and they asked me, ‘Well, why is BYU number one and why do you like the university?' I tell them because the university and the program teaches you to become a man.

"It's not just about playing football for four or two years, but it's about the rest of your life once you leave. It's about what influences, education and life principles that you receive that teaches you about being successful in life. It's about the things they teach you and help you develop and that's what I want to learn and sacrifice to learn for the rest of my life. That way you can make the right decision and live the right way, having been prepared to face the challenges of life. That's what BYU teaches you."

While he is not a member, Lataimua is familiar with the LDS faith.

"When I was younger, I grew up around my cousins who are all LDS," said Lataimua. "They didn't drink and never swore and that was a good thing to me. It's the little things that really matter, and when you can take care of the little things first, the rest comes through. I know that at BYU you can't drink, smoke, do drugs and have premarital sex and all that stuff. I'm not LDS but I know the rules and what's expected because of my relatives. I really think it's a great foundation to have morally because it prevents challenges and distractions in life."

In fact, it was his LDS cousins that first turned Lataimua on to BYU.

"I didn't even know what BYU was until probably around the seventh grade," Lataimua recalled. "I had a cousin [Naupa'a Puamau] who came back from a mission to El Salvador and he was talking about BYU. It was BYU this and BYU that, and I was, ‘What the heck is BYU? What is this all about?' He explained everything and how they play football and what they stand for. Since then I became a fan."

Growing up in San Mateo, which lies just south of San Francisco, Lataimua has seen the lives of many young Polynesian kids ruined and devastated by choices they've made.

"Being out here, I've seen how a lot of the choices the younger kids have made and how it has affected others," Lataimua said. "For me, having morals is a big, big thing because they're guidelines that help you. Out here some of us are starting to get away from that Polynesian culture of respect and honor and following those morals that are already found within the Polynesian culture. I think what is found there at BYU would help a lot of us get back on track."

Seeing the end results of others' life-changing decisions has shaped Lataimua's perception and outlook on life, and what he learned about BYU seemed to fit in well with that.

"When I spoke to Coach Mendenhall, man, we talked a lot about a game plan, and this wasn't something I was expecting," said an excited Lataimua. "He talked about if I wanted to get married and what kind of a wife I wanted. He told me he was going to ask me questions, but I didn't think he was going to ask me questions like this. He talked about how many kids I wanted and what I was going to do for work. He asked me about how I was going to get a job and raise the kind of family I wanted. He asked me questions that I wasn't even ready for.

"When I answered him I told him, ‘Man, I don't even know what to say right now,'" Lataimua said with a chuckle in his voice. "He then said to me, ‘How are you going to do this? How are you going to make it happen?' I told him, ‘Well, I'm going to try and make it happen no matter what, but I know that here at BYU you can make it happen a lot easier.' It makes it a lot easier when you have people around you that influence you to strive for those same things because they're striving for the same goals that you are.

"There was so much said, but it was just a great talk because it wasn't about how many sacks I'm going to have or how many tackles I can make playing football there. It wasn't about how many games I can help them win to make some coach look good. It was about me and my future. I think that's how he views his success and that's what makes him and BYU different."

Lataimua has one more year left to play at San Mateo. He was named one of the top middle linebackers in the nation by Scott Eklund of on the Scout network. Although Coach Mendenhall didn't extend a full-ride offer to Lataimua during his visit, he did inform him that they are very high on him.

"He said right now that I'm their top linebacker that they're recruiting right now," said Lataimua, a member of the 2013 class. "I just have to wait because they're going to be looking at some high school kids. He said he wanted to offer me sometime, but he wants me to come back for another visit during [the season] so I can come watch one of their games."

BYU has been open with Lataimua and kept him in the loop as far as where he stands in the recruiting process.

"It's tough but, you know, it's a timing thing and so I'm not too worried about it," Lataimua said. "I used to think about it all the time and still do here and there. I just have to keep doing what I do and continue to focus on school and praying, but right now BYU is my number one school. Everyone else is behind, so I'm hoping they'll give me a scholarship when the time is right."

His LDS cousins are likely keeping their fingers crossed as well.

"Honestly, I never thought BYU would ever look at me," said a somber Lataimua. "They are and I'm truly blessed."

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