Takitaki has BYU on his mind

With scholarship offers from schools in conferences like the Pac-12 and the Big 10, Sione Takitaki of Heritage High School is rapidly becoming a highly contested football prospect. An LDS athlete from Southern California, Takitaki has an offer from BYU, and recently Coach Poppinga made a trip down to his high school to speak with his coach.

Over the past two years, Sione Takitaki had been up to camp at BYU. He attended the weekly activities with many of his cousins who play alongside him at Heritage. Recently he was offered a scholarship by Coach Mendenhall, and now the two-way athlete is working hard to ensure he's worthy of such an offer.

"Things are going good and I'm just working hard on my grades and really trying to finish this year strong," said Takitaki. "I'm doing good and really just trying to finish with an A+ [in] the two classes that I need to make up. Everything is going smooth right now, and I just want to keep everything solid so everything stays good."

When BYU first offered Takitaki a scholarship, it was conditional based primarily upon whether or not he served an LDS mission. This was something he was considering, but isn't exactly sure at this time if he will serve a mission. Recently, however, Coach Mendenhall gave him some good news regarding his scholarship status.

"A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Coach Mendenhall and he told me that the scholarship is official, so if I want to come I can come regardless if I want to serve a mission or not," said a happy Takitaki. "To hear that from him was a blessing to me. It just made me feel like they really wanted me."

BYU was able to dig deep and find an available scholarship that would take effect upon enrollment.

"They did all of the background check and everything on their end," said Takitaki. "Now it's just up to me to do my part, so that's what I've been focusing on for when that day comes, if I do go to BYU, I can do some good things."

Recently, Cougar outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga flew down to Southern California to speak with Heritage High School's coaches and see Takitaki. Southern California isn't Coach Poppinga's recruiting area, so him personally travelling down to the Golden State to visit Heritage High School spoke volumes to Takitaki.

"Coach Poppinga is a good guy, man," said Takitaki. "He's a good coach. He came by last week and I was able to talk with him and my coach. He wanted to know how I was doing with my schoolwork this semester. I just told him what was up. He just let me know that BYU would love to have me. It's just been a blessing. Coach Poppinga is a good coach."

"Coach Poppinga told me that this area is Coach Mark Atuaia's area, but he was the first one to come down to Heritage High School to take a look at the kid and we introduced Sione to him," said Heritage High School assistant coach Petelo Hifo. "Coach Poppinga told me, ‘I remember what he did at the camp. There's no doubt about it. He's the one that we have to go after.' Because to them, Sione fits well with their defensive system."

From the beginning, BYU was the favored school for Takitaki. When other colleges such as San Jose State, Washington State and Wisconsin, among others, offered and showed interest, his thoughts and interest swayed. Ever since Coach Poppinga made that trip down to Southern California, Takitaki's heart has swayed back according to his coach.

"For Coach Poppinga to take the time to come down and see the kids, I think that's what changed his mind about going to BYU," said Coach Hifo. "At first he wasn't really happy with BYU and not getting an offer from them, but when Coach Poppinga showed up, man, it just totally changed his mind about BYU. Now the kid would love to go to BYU, and that's where he's going to be in the future."

However, Takitaki has yet to commit to BYU. Despite that fact, Coach Hifo has a strong feeling that BYU is in a great position for Takitaki's services.

"Oh yeah, I mean to me, and this is what I think, if he's going to qualify to go to BYU, hey why not?" said Coach Hifo. "To me that's the right school for him. If he can qualify to go to USC or Wisconsin, then he can qualify to go to BYU."

At 6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds, Takitaki plays as an undersized defensive end – at least by college standards – as well as tailback and fullback on offense. He's even played middle linebacker for Heritage's defense. He runs very well for his size, is a relentless pass-rusher and would be a perfect fit in the Cougars' 3-4 defense at the weak side linebacker position.

"When I look at Sione, he reminds me a little of Ziggy [Ansah] in what they did with Ziggy when he was there," said Coach Hifo. "They found a place for Ziggy to make plays. With Sione, he can play either offense or defense. Defensively, when Sione goes down to a three-point stance, he's so quick with his first step. He's very fast off the ball. The thing that I love about Sione is he is really good with using his hands to get separation. He's a guy with a very good motor and it is nonstop. His motor just keeps going and going and that kid never stops."

"[BYU told me] that if I come there they would have a spot for me to go out and get the quarterback, to dropping in the flats, to running stunts with the other linebackers and d-tackles," said Takitaki. "Man, when I heard that it just really opened me up. It's been good."

Takitaki tuned in to the 2013 NFL draft and watched Ansah get selected with the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

"I saw him get drafted and, man, Ziggy is a beast!" said Takitaki. "I watched some clips of him and for him to do what he did in that short amount of time, and to know what he knows in such a short amount of time, is pretty crazy! It makes me happy that Coach Poppinga coached him his junior year. Now he's coming out here to take a look at me? That's just crazy man. Like I said, it's a blessing."

As the recruiting ball keeps rolling along, Takitaki currently has BYU on his mind.

"Man, my thoughts are I really want to play at BYU," said Takitaki. "I just want to get in there and compete my first year. They're going to need outside linebackers and it just makes sense to go there. BYU, you know, is really the college that I'm thinking of."

Coach Hifo, who is also LDS, hopes Takitaki's current sentiments carry him to BYU one day. He knows Takitaki very well and thinks BYU would be a perfect fit for him in more ways than one.

"These kids are good kids but sometimes these kids don't make the right decisions day in and day out," said Coach Hifo. "I hope Sione will make that choice to go to BYU, because it will help him become the type of person he is supposed to be.

"The second reason I would like him to go is so the parents don't have to worry about their kid. BYU's environment, the honor code and just the influence around there will be a big help. Like I said, they're just kids but they still make choices. They go to church and understand what is right and what is wrong, but by coming to BYU it will help strengthen their testimony of their faith because that's something that is part of the university. They're going to be coached by great men who put a focus on character building, be around football players that are members of their faith and be expected to live the standards taught to them by their parents."

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