BYU lands Takitaki

The decision to commit to BYU was a very personal one born out of personal reflection. The path that led Sione Takitaki to BYU was laid long before he was even born, and the decision to commit to BYU has its foundation in influence of a father who passed away long ago.

Sione Takitaki is a physically talented football player. College coaches from Utah, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State, Arizona, Washington State and Wisconsin understand this fact. Last Saturday, Takitaki decided to make a commitment decision.

"I've just been really thinking about it and doing my background checking on BYU and everything," Takitaki said. "I just feel that the right school for me is BYU, you know what I mean? It's a college that can help you grow in the Church and be a really good influence on you so you become a good person throughout your life. Everything about BYU just makes you a better person for the future, so that's just the school that I need to go to so I can become a better man."

The decision to commit to BYU came by way of a process that was both private and personal. He spent time on bended knees and counseling with family members. One such family member was his cousin Petelo Hifo.

"When we talk about football, I think the sky's the limit for him and that is why I think BYU really likes him," Hifo said. "That kid can do more than one thing because he versatile. I've seen that since day one and I think BYU sees that in him. The sky's the limit for him. He has the right attitude for the game and he has the right mentality for the game. That's why BYU took the chance of going after him. For Sione, BYU is the right place for him and I let him know it."

Hifo is Sione's older cousin, and in the Tongan culture the older male cousins are often viewed as uncles. They are shown the exact same respect and are often referred to as such. However, in order to see why Takitaki went to Hifo for advice, one has to turn back the wheels of time.

Takitaki lost his father a long time ago, and when Hifo was a young man, he too lost his parents. Long before Takitaki was even born, his mother Peau and father Vai took Hifo and his younger brother Sivi into their home and raised them as though they were their own children. Now older and a father himself, Hifo is passing along the same father-figure standards to the son of Vai, a man who once influenced and molded him into who he is today.

"I told Sione something," Hifo said. "I said, ‘Sione, the three years that I played at the high school level, your dad never missed one of my games. He always got me ready and prepared me for my games and things in life. What he did for me, I'm going to do the same thing to you. He was always so excited to be there for me. Now, I want to be there for you.' That is how life is supposed to be because this is who we are."

Hifo recalled the days, long after he had played football and graduated from Fontana High School, when he and Vai would go and watch little Sione play Pop Warner football.

"I remember when Sione was playing football when he was a little kid," Hifo said. "His father Vai couldn't speak English very well. He would get Sione up and ready for games five hours before the game even started because he was so excited. I remember those days when I played. At the games, everyone knew who Vai was because he couldn't speak English very well. He would yell out in Tongan, ‘Tuki e masi'i Sione!' – or ‘Hit him hard Sione!' Then he would mumble something in English that no one could understand. Everyone used to make fun of him but he didn't care."

When he played football, Hifo received that same enthusiasm from Vai.

"When I played in high school, Via was always there for me to support me and he never once complained that he had to do these things for me," Hifo said. "He always told me two things: ‘Go to church,' and ‘Make sure you go to school.' Then he would help get me ready for my games and help prepare me for the day. Now I'm in a similar situation with Sione that I was [in] with Sione's dad Vai. Forget about being Sione's coach, I have to be there for him because I believe I'm the replacement for his dad. I have to be that same example to Sione that Vai was for me. I know Vai is now a proud man."

One can catch a small glimpse of why Takitaki went to Hifo for council prior to making what is currently the biggest decision of his young life.

"I had a chance to talk to him and he was really the last person I wanted to talk to before I made any decision," said Takitaki. "He just said he felt that BYU was the right decision for me. I was ready to commit and he was behind me 100 percent on my choice. After we had a talk, he told me a day later that it was time for me to call Coach Mendenhall with the news. It was a fast process and everything went really smoothly."

"How I feel I helped Sione out was I spoke to him like a dad and not like a football coach. When you talk about his father Vai, he's no longer around to counsel his son," said Hifo. "He's no longer there to help influence and guide his son to help him make the right decisions. For Sione, he understands his father is no longer around, but I'm still here. That's how Sione looks at it and that's why he respects me for my opinion. I spoke to him as if his dad was alive today and speaking directly to him. I think that is why Sione is beginning to slowly understanding why BYU is the best place for him. That is why it's a done deal for him to commit to BYU. He knows that in order to be the type of man his father wants him to be, he needs to be at a place that will help him get there. That place is BYU."

After petitioning for direction from on high, and receiving counsel from Hifo, Takitaki made up his mind.

"I just went and prayed about it, and it just feels like it's the right school for me," said Takitaki. "I just feel like I have an opportunity to become more than just a football player. I can become a better man and fulfill my dreams in life. I feel that BYU is all that. It's a college that can prepare you for life after college when it comes to family. It's a place where there are great people all around both on the football team and just on campus. That's the type of people I want around me.

"I wrote Coach Howell on Facebook and said, ‘Hey Coach Howell, I just feel that BYU is right for me and I want to commit.' I told him I want to commit to BYU. He replied, ‘That's great! Now just call Coach Mendenhall and let him know.'"

So, that's what Takitaki did.

"Coach Mendenhall just said how excited they are to have me," Takitaki said. "He said, ‘We need to do some things, and BYU is a great choice. I love your decision and let's make it happen.' Coach Mendenhall is a great guy, man. I just feel like he's a coach that I'm going to want to be around and be coached by. I'm excited to have a coach like him be my head coach, you know what I mean? He's the perfect coach for me because of the type of coach he is and the type of man he is."

"Coach Mendenhall told him, ‘I'm proud of you because you made the right decision.' I think he's right," said Hifo. "Sione made the right decision. We're going to come up there next month. Me, Sione and his mom are going to come up and visit with Coach Mendenhall in person. I think we'll talk more with Coach Mendenhall and I think Coach Mendenhall is right. After everything Sione did, and all the talks we had, he made the right decision to commit to BYU."

After committing to Coach Mendenhall on Saturday, Takitaki got together with Hifo.

"After we talked, we went to a fireside on Saturday and that was great," said Takitaki. "It was a good day."

Next month the Hifo family will all gather in Orem, Utah for the first Hifo family reunion. Many family members from Ha'akame, Tonga will be there to reunite with loved ones. It will be a special time for Takitaki, his mother Peau – whose maiden name is Hifo – and many members of the family.

"I'll be coming up there for a family reunion next month, so we'll be heading up there and I'm going to go visit BYU with my mom," said Takitaki. "I just want to meet with Coach Mendenhall and the coaches. I want my mom to meet the coaches and just spend time with her up there to see how it is.

"I want to go to BYU so I can be all of me. I'm going there to be better than I am now, because I know the influences and coaching there is more than just football. It's about life. And that's what I need around me so I can be all of me, so I can reach the potential I have within me in every way. That's why I'm going to BYU."

Takitaki knows he has a lot of hard work cut out for him. He understands that now is the time to set aside those things that matter least and focus on what will prepare him for the future.

"I'm taking summer school classes to make up some grades I need to fix from my earlier years," said Takitaki. "I'll just have to make up a few classes and I should be good, so I'm going to do that this summer and then really focus on my last year of high school to make sure I do well. I'm taking algebra one as one of my classes this summer and then a few others before school starts next fall.

"I'm not going to let Coach Mendenhall down. I talked with him and I gave him my word. I'm going to get my classes right and I'm committed. I'm done with all that other stuff and now it's time to step up."

"He's going to take some summer school classes and he's not taking anything but his core classes right now," said Hifo. "I have to tell you, when I looked at his grades and his classes and he's not as bad I as I thought, I can breathe a little easier, but he has to do some work."

Takitaki is determined to do what he needs to do to succeed.

"I'm going to go out there to Provo, Utah and [will] be the best I can be," said Takitaki. "I know this is the right decision for me and I'm excited about it. Now, it's all on me and I have to rise up to the challenge. I think this is what my dad would expect of me."

Hifo was influenced by Vai long ago to be a caring example and good role model. Now, Hifo believes that the influence of fatherhood from just beyond the veil has paved the way for Vai's son to do great things.

"You know what, I think right now that man is a happy man right now," said Hifo. "I was thinking, ‘Man, that man is a proud man right now.' We went to a fireside the other day, but I still have a plan to take him to his father's grave so we all can have a talk. I want to take him to the cemetery so he can see his father's grave and we can talk. I know if I'm happy for Sione, being his older cousin, I know his dad is smiling on the other side. I want to take him over there to his father's grave and say, ‘Vai, Sione just committed to BYU. I know you are happy because of the decision he made. I know you taught me many things, and I know you are happy Sione made this decision.' I know with all my heart, he is a proud man."

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