Ben Tuinei Left Out in the Cold and Wondering Why

A former University of Arizona football player, who turned down his scholarship after he returned from his LDS mission and another subsequent full-ride offer from Utah intending to walk on at BYU this fall, has been curiously left out in the proverbial cold wondering why BYU coaches have not called him back.

Ben Tuinei, American Samoa's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 who signed with the PAC-10's University of Arizona in 2000, told last night "they (BYU) haven't invited me to play. I feel discouraged because I know I have the talent and ability.

"I'm ready to give them my full commitment if they want to take a risk with me. Believe me, it will be a worthwhile no-cost risk for BYU because I'll be paying my own way. To be honest with you, I'm feeling kind of neglected, rejected and pretty discouraged right now."

Tuinei initially approached a BYU assistant coach last year inquiring about a possible scholarship to play for the Cougars. Informed they had no scholarships to give, Tuinei confirmed – and reconfirmed as late as a month ago when he last visited the BYU football offices – he would walk on with the Cougars and strive to earn a scholarship. He has not received a return call, he said.

An All-Star defensive end at Leone High School, Tuinei has been working out daily with a personal trainer in Provo since last year, and projects himself as a college linebacker. He is 6-2 and weighs 227 pounds, bench presses 385 pounds and squats over 500 pounds. He said he has done a lot of speed work with local trainer Danny Dorr and, while he has not timed himself in the 40 since his LDS mission return, thinks his 40 speed now is around the 4.6 range.

Tuinei returned from his LDS mission in New Zealand last September and surprised the Arizona coaches when he told them his priorities had changed and he would not be returning to the Wildcats program. In subsequent weeks, he moved to live with his sister in Utah where he also received a scholarship offer from Utah coach Ron McBride and several smaller California colleges.

Meanwhile, Tuinei has been working as a realtor in Utah County for the past three months and has house closings scheduled for the next three months.

"My main goal is to get an education and I know football is the best vehicle for me to accomplish that. I submitted all my transcripts to BYU in the winter, but I haven't really followed up because I haven't heard anything from the BYU coaches," he said.

In an interview last December, Tuinei's LDS mission president in New Zealand, told TBS "if he's half as good a football player as he was a leader and missionary, he's going to be a great player and asset for BYU… I'd recommend him to anybody for anything. He was one of my assistants, a special young man. He's a great, great leader and missionary; one of the best, if not the best, we ever had."

The words came from Paul Mendenhall, the father of new BYU defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall. Tuinei said he has not used his relationship with the senior Mendenhall to garner any special favors with his son.

"In fact, I spoke with him today, but I did not menton anything about my football situation to him," Tuinei noted.

Mendenhall added: "He always joked he was the toughest of the bunch. Now we'll find out what kind of football payer he is. If he has the same football skills he has as a leader, he's going to be a great asset to BYU."

Standout BYU defensive end Shaun Nua, who played against Tuinei in high school, said he "was a great impact player in Samoa. He ran everything down around the ball."

As an All Star senior, he recorded 15 sacks, over 100 tackles and two blocked punts.

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