"Yeah, [Poppinga] came by and he got to see Lula Finau and Thomas Toki, who is another talented d-line prospect we have here," said Coach Tarantola. "It was good and he's a good guy. We were happy to have him out."
"When I was out at BYU about two weeks ago, Coach Poppinga kept telling me he was going to come out here," said Finau, an offensive and defensive lineman for Jaunita. "He kept reminding me that he was going to do that and he did."
Only a ninth grader, the 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound Finau possesses a rare blend of size and talent for his age.
"As a player he started for us as a ninth grader, so he's pretty special," Coach Tarantola said. "He played defensive tackle for most of the year, and just because we were young and needed help on the offensive line, we moved him to offensive guard. He started for us as a ninth grader and has so much potential. He doesn't really realize it and is just the baby of the family, but what I saw was his size and he's a great vocal leader. He's only a freshman but he took a lot of leadership roles."
"On defense I play defensive tackle and I'm pretty good at plugging the gaps and blowing up the center," said Finau. "I also play offensive guard, so I went both ways last season.
"I'm very quick with my hands and I have good handwork, especially on offense. I can get my hands on the defensive lineman and be physical with him. I also like to zone block because I like looking for someone to block even though there isn't one."
Starting varsity football as a ninth grader is very rare feat among today's more developed high school program standards, but to play on both sides of the ball as a ninth grader is an even rarer accomplishment.
Much of Finau's early success can be attributed to his stature, but it can also be attributed to his demeanor on the field .
"Oh, he's a great kid, a great kid," said Coach Tarantola. "He's just very happy-go-lucky and, like I said, he's just so big that we sometimes forget that he's only just a ninth grader. We don't ever ask that much of kids his age to do what he did last year. We don't ask kids his age to have the maturity of a varsity player. He gets along with everyone and takes a lot of pride in many things. He's not afraid to call a kid out if he's not doing something right, and goes to Bible study or seminary every morning at 5:30. He's a kid that's working hard in all aspects of his life."
"I like going to seminary because it sort of refreshes my mind," Finau said. "I like learning about the gospel and it's a good wakeup. I want to go serve a mission and I'm so glad they put the age limit down so I can now go right out of high school."
Recently, the Finau family came down to Utah for the funeral of Rubi Sikahema, the mother of former BYU football star Vai Sikahema and also Paul's mother Lynette. Rubi passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 5.
"I went up there and had a little visit," said Finau. "I went up there about two weeks ago, and I went up there with my uncle Vai Sikahema. We went over to BYU about two weeks ago. We were actually over there at Utah for his mother's funeral. He wanted to take me over to BYU and meet all the coaches."
Following the funeral processions, uncle and nephew drove to BYU, and Finau caught his first glimpse of the campus.
"Oh man, everything is so nice!" said Finau. "Everything is so clean and nice walking around over there and meeting all the coaches. We had a whole hour session meeting with every single coach and they were all just talking to me."
Standing there among the coaches of BYU was a bit nerve-wracking for the young man.
"I was so nervous," Finau said with a chuckle. "It was my first visit ever and I'm just a freshman. I never thought that would ever happen. I talked to all of them and after a while I wasn't as nervous. We actually walked into the offices and they were having a meeting. Like, we just poked our heads in there and they were having a meeting. The coaches just stopped their meeting right then and there and took me on a tour of the facilities."
One coach that really stood out to Finau was BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae. While Anae is often stern, Finau saw a few other sides of him.
"He was really funny," said Finau with a laugh. "He brought the Church into his recruiting and was telling me about his mission and everything like that. I really like how he brought the Church into the football side and the recruiting side of BYU."
His first impression of Coach Mendenhall was also unexpected.
"When I first saw Coach Mendenhall, I didn't think he was a head coach," Finau said. "He was really nice and really funny too. He was like, ‘Oh, you want to go sign right now? Do you want to go to my office and sign right now?' He was joking with me about that and was really funny. I was sitting there laughing and it was kind of awkward for me because I didn't know what to say or what to do."
It was during the visit that Finau first got to know Poppinga.
"Yeah, I actually did talk with Coach Poppinga, and he was the one that was following me around when I was looking at the facilities and stuff," Finau said. "He kept telling me, ‘I'm going to be up there in two weeks.' He kept reminding me about that. He's a great guy and he seemed really cool. He's one of the younger guys and is a really cool coach. He did what he told me he was going to do two weeks ago."
After some small talk and fun chatter among the boys, Finau was shown some recent Cougar football highlights.
"They took me to the meeting room and we were watching video highlights of the past seasons," Finau said. "That was the best because I was sitting in the center of the meeting room and they had this huge screen on. I just remember the feeling I had just watching it.
"Watching those highlights in that room was one of the best parts of the visit. It was just a great feeling. They pointed out Romney Fuga and they pointed out my uncle Hebron Fangupo. I'm related to him through his wife. His wife is my grandma's brother's daughter. When he was playing over here with the Seahawks he was actually my roommate. He was staying with me for a while. He's goofy and really funny. He also loves the Church."
What came next during his visit was a moment that Finau will more than likely remember for the rest of his life.
"I was sitting with all the coaches in the weight room," Finau recalled. "They were talking about the season and everything, and I was sitting there and when I was about to leave Coach Anae looked at me and said, ‘I'm going to tell you this, we are offering you.' I was sitting there like, ‘What?' and all the coaches were sitting there nodding their heads. I just looked at their faces and they were all just nodding. I looked at Coach Mendenhall and he was nodding too. I was like, ‘Oh wow! I can't believe this!'"
"He went on a visit to BYU not too long ago and, yeah, they offered him," Coach Tarantola said. "They saw him, watched over some of his film. Lula's brother is Jared Finau and BYU got on him a little bit late in the process after he had already had a lot of offers. I think BYU met with him and saw that he's just a young kid but he's going to be a monster by the time it's all said and done. Right now he's around 6'3", 295. By the time he's done growing he's going to be a 6'5", 320-pound guy probably and look really good."
The offer was surprising, and even now Finau reflects upon that moment with excitement.
"I just think it's a blessing," said an excited Finau. "I think it's a blessing that I got my first offer, especially when it's from my church college BYU. I just think it's great and so nice to know that we're in touch with the Church and sports where it's all tied together. I think that it's even better that BYU has the church part of it with the sports part of it.
"Like my brother, he's out here at UW, and tells me that his favorite part of his day is when he goes to the missionary prep classes because he's tired of all the temptations and everything that's going on out here. It's not the same environment as BYU, so I'm proud to know that I have a chance to go to BYU and be in that environment."
On the drive back up to Salt Lake City, Vai took the time to personally counsel his young nephew who had just received a verbal offer from BYU. Finau was given the same opportunity that was once given to Vai long ago.
"He just kept reminding me how BYU is tied to the Church," Finau said about his uncle. "He kept reminding me about that. He was like, ‘You will never fade away from the Church if you're always around this type of an environment and around people of your same religion. People like that won't tempt you to do things that you won't want to do. I thought that was really cool for him to talk to me about those things and it's so true. It was just a really neat day for me."