BYU was the first college to offer Berrien Springs High School (Berrien Springs, MI) lineman Phillip Paea an opportunity to not only play football at the next level, but to also continue his education once he graduates from high school.
“Yeah, BYU was the first ones to offer me,” said Paea. “That was back in June during their summer camp. I was out there and went to their camp.”
Paea decided to come visit BYU following an invite from Steve Kaufusi who was coaching at the All Poly Camp last summer. The big Tongan from the state of Michigan took him up on his offer and decided to attend BYU’s summer camp when he received a surprise.
“The main reason I was out in Utah was for the All Poly Camp,” Paea said. “When I was at the All Poly Camp, Coach Kaufusi noticed me. From there he told me to come on down to the BYU camp to just check it out and see if I could play for them down there. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen but I went down there and did my best. I worked hard and at the end of the camp he picked me to go meet with Coach Mendenhall. That’s when they offered me.”
The unexpected offer not only took Paea by surprise, but it left him grateful and honored.
“Yeah, I was excited and it was amazing, especially coming from BYU,” Paea said. “BYU is a big and prestigious school. From how prestigious BYU is, being one of the top tier programs in the country, I was grateful for the offer. Everything there was just amazing.”
Former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s staff was the first to extend that offer, but it was new BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff who reaffirmed to Paea that he still had the offer and BYU wants him.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” said Paea. “It was a little rough at first with the changes that took place and all the old staff going out to Virginia. It’s going good now and things are back up and running again. I’m talking to the new staff now, and Coach Kaufusi said that he really wants me for the D-line. But Coach Empey is telling me, ‘No, I can’t let that happen’ so he wants me for the O-line.”
Since that day when he got his offer from BYU, Paea has received other offers from colleges looking to secure his services as well. He holds his BYU offer among his top five of nine offers overall (Editors note - Paea added an offer from the University of Miami (Fl) earlier today)
The question of why that is the case stems from a pious reason. Paea isn’t LDS, but he knows the value BYU has in regards to helping one develop and sustain their religious convictions without social repercussion.
“You know, BYU is a LDS school and just how they carry themselves,” Paea said. “No matter what religion you are, or what you might believe in, they’re going to help you not only grow in football but also in your faith.
“It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s really good and really healthy. When you go to a college like that with standards, it’s going to be really easy to stay in that straight line of going to college and getting done what needs to get done. That’s what makes BYU unique in that way.”
Being Seventh Day Adventist, Paea would like to be in an environment where he could grow in faith without the social distractions often found on college campuses. The faith-based emphasis found at BYU is what makes the Provo campus an attractive one.
“For me I didn’t grow up in the LDS faith but in the Seventh Day Adventist church,” Paea said. “I want to keep playing football but I also want to continue being faithful, you know? The Man upstairs is the one that gave me of all these opportunities, and I just want to continue to show Him my gratitude. I want to grow within my religion as well as a football player.”
Being of Tongan decent, Paea recalls the time when he lived in Tonga as a child.
“My dad is from VaVa’u and the village is called Neiafu,” Paea said. “My mom is from the islands of Ha’apai. I lived out there for a year and went to school out there. That was back when I was six years old, but, man, the one thing you learn living in Tonga is how to appreciate what you have here in America. Everything you get you just make sure it lasts longer. You learn to appreciate the little things.”
He recalls a funny, yet heartwarming story about his parents, who recently visited their native home islands of Tonga.
“My parents went out there a couple of months ago and they bought me a pig, so my mom’s sister is out there taking care of it right now,” Paea said with a chuckle in his voice. “Then my dad was like, ‘I don’t know why we bought you a pig. All we did was by your aunt some groceries!’”
It’s not uncommon to hear some comical story revolving around food from the islands of Tonga. Such is the nature of a people that are so friendly and warm. The fact that BYU has a head coach who hails from the same roots as the Paea family places BYU on common ground. Paea loves the fact that BYU has a Tongan head coach that understands him on a level most might not.
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“That is amazing because Tongan kids or any Polynesian kid going out there will have a head coach that understands you and your roots,” Paea said. “You know what I mean? He’ll know how you are raised and what’s expected of you. That makes a big difference.”