Jared Thorkelson/Total Blue Sports

BYU has been a struggle for Sione Takitaki but he's refined himself & benefited from his time as a Cougar so far.

Growing up in California’s Inland Empire isn’t easy. The Inland Empire is known for its social ills drowned in alcohol and drugs, swarming with gangs, and every difficulty life can throw at you. Life in the I.E. can be an overwhelming experience, especially for a widowed LDS Tongan mother raising a young child on her own. BYU’s Sione Takitaki is looking to make good on the sacrifices his mother made for him

In a nutshell the intro to this article above is exactly the situation BYU defensive end Sione Takitaki grew up in. For any young boy it’s an unfavorable world where a positive future can be hard to envision. While Takitaki was just getting used to putting his pads on at the Pop Warner level, his father Vai passed away, leaving his mother Peau to support a family on her own. On the streets of the Inland Empire, young Sione Takitaki would learned what it means to be a man.

Years later this rowdy, rough edged boy would become Heritage High School’s star football player. His hardened demeanor and ‘I don’t care’ attitude would cause him to walk across the football field to the opposing team’s sidelines during the CIF Championship. With his head coach yelling at him to return to his sideline, Takitaki walked alone down the opposing team’s sideline calling out the best players saying, “I’m going to kick you’re [expletive], I’m going to kick your [expletive], and I’m going to kick your [expletive].”

Walking the entire length of the opposing team’s sideline, Takitaki threatened every opposing star player. Rumor has it he stopped when he got to their head coach, letting him know that when it was all over he was going to dish out the same punishment to him as well. In the end Takitaki kept his word. On the football field he dished out blow after punishing blow to all he had been singled out; all except for Rancho Verde High School’s head coach, Coach Duffy that is. Heritage High School would squeaked out its first CIF-SS Central Division Championship beating Rancho Verde 34-33.

Soon Takitaki’s mean street mentality and on-the-field theatrics would bring recruiters from the Pac-12, MWC, and Big-10 conferences seeking his services. Turning then all down, Takitaki would surprisingly choose BYU, an environment drastically different than the demeanor he was accustomed to.

“You know, there are a lot of other places that I could have gone to,” said Takitaki. “I could have played college football for a lot of big time programs. I decided to come here to BYU.”

When Takitaki first arrived on campus as a true freshman, it wasn’t but a few weeks before he found himself in serious trouble. At one time his uncle, who helped raise him, drove out to Utah to plead with Bronco Mendenhall to give Sione another chance. Containing the beast raging within Takitaki was going to be a challenge for Bronco Mendenhall and his staff. Kelly Poppinga, Takitaki’s position coach last year, once said, “You know, he’s a good kid. He really is. He just needs to grow and learn what’s best in life for him. It’s not going to be easy.”

Takitaki would find himself in trouble with BYU on several occasions going forward, During football practice he would often call out offensive and defensive players to fight. For him it didn’t matter. His unruliness would leave him missing most of that latter half of the 2015 season for violating team rules. To many it appeared the beast from the I.E. was too much to handle, and all the conduct codes, moral support, and religious influence found at every turn on the BYU campus seemed futile. For Takitaki, BYU seemed like a place he was destined to leave.

Following his suspension, Takitaki returned home to the Inland Empire. He kept himself away from the negative influences that once governed his life. Instead, he focused on working out, staying in shape, and being home with his mother Peau. Once he was able, he returned back to BYU with a new outlook on life gained through these times of personal refinement.

“I don’t think I would have learned and gained the knowledge that I have now if I had chosen to go someplace else,” said Takitaki. “If I was somewhere else I don’t think I would have been able to move closer to the Lord and the gospel.”

Slowly, Sione’s world began to change after his return to BYU. His outlook on life is no longer based on a thug mentality and ghetto demeanor but rather on what’s best in life. The dawn has broken and his whole outlook has changed.

“It’s been good and I love it here at BYU,” said Takitaki. “I love the new coaching staff and the new scheme we have now. I love rushing off the edge, so it’s kind of a perfect scheme fit for me. Coach Sitake and Coach Tuiaki and Coach Kaufusi know what they’re doing. They’re did a great job in getting the guys up to speed learning the new scheme and the new techniques we’re using. I love it. Things are a lot different for me now.”

A face once hardened and void of positive emotion has been replaced with softer eyes expressing joy now complemented with a smile. At BYU, Sione Takitaki has not only found a healthy passion for sports, but he’s also found himself. He sees what he wants to become, and with that same fervor as a speed rushing defensive end, he has gone after it with reckless abandon.

“I look back now and I see how my life could have been much different if I had made a difference choice,” Takitaki said. “I know what I want to do with my life and how I want to be as a man. I don’t know if that would have happened if I went to play football someplace else. If I was somewhere else, I don’t know, I think my life would have been a lot different. I think I would have been a wild child or something.”  

Rather than continue down the road of heartache as an unchained wild child from the streets, Sione Takitaki’s life has made a dramatic U-turn. The small and subtle influences of BYU and life-changing experiences forged from expectations and consequence has led him down a road never imagined. This summer, Takitaki will be getting sealed to the love of his life in the Sacramento Temple.

“I met her at a bonfire while here at BYU, and I’m blessed to have her because she’s an amazing girl,” Takitaki said with a smile. “I’m lucky and feel blessed to have found someone like her, because she’s helped me change my life. I’m excited to get married to her on June 3rd in Sacramento.”

It appears that beauty has truly tamed the savage beast. Well, almost.

“I feel a lot of that has to do with growing as a football player, and I think a lot of it also has to do with being hungry,” Takitaki said. “You know, I wasn’t able to really play last year because I made some mistakes. I learned and grew from that. I’m still hungry and I think this is going to be a good year for me. I’m still the same guy on the field though so be looking for that this coming season. A lot has changed with who I am, but nothing has changed on the football field.”

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