One day former Kahuku High School head coach Siuaki Livai approached a talented rugby player from the village of Teufaiva located within the capital city of Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Siuaki, seeing the agility, speed, and quickness of young Sekope Lutu Latu, instantly recognized his potential football talents.
“I first spoke to Mr. Siuaki Livai and he talked to me about coming and playing football in America,” said Lutu Latu.
Founder of a program called Toki Tonga (Tongan Axe) which is designed to give athletic Tongan young men a chance to attend school in America to receive a better education and chance to earn a possible college scholarship, Siuaki reached out by phone to Lutu Latu. However, Lutu Latu’s mind was focused more on a task currently at hand.
“Yeah, because at the time when Mr. Siuaki Livai came it was finals in Tonga for rugby,” said Lutu Latu. “But that week we had rugby finals and we lost. Then I just thought about trying to play football.”
With the thought of playing American football in his mind, a desire to journey to America hit Lutu Lati; a desire reinforced by his family wanting a better life for their son in America.
“My family wanted me to come [to Hawaii] for a better life,” Lutu Latu said. “I moved with my dad [Sione Latu] and we live with my aunty [Mele Suiava Latu], so I can try and play football at Kahuku.
“I came to Hawaii for a better life and because of what Mr. Siuaki Livai told me. [He] told me that coming here is better than any place. Also, my family wanted me to have a better future.”
Leaving the beautiful islands of Tonga behind, Lutu Latu kissed his mother, Atafa Fusipala, Latu goodbye. Being her only child, Atafa was willing to split the family apart for the sake of trying to provide a better life for her son. To this day it’s an emotional hardship knowing Lutu Latu’s mother made a personal sacrifice to be left behind in Tonga.
“I’m the only one in the family,” said Lutu Latu. “She might come or my dad might go back, but, no, she will stay back home till everything here is settled.”
Sekope Lutu Latu ended up travelling 3,129 miles to the shores of Hawaii. He and his father, Sione, would settle on the North Shore in Laie with his aunt, Mele Suiava Latu. Soon, he would make new friends far away from the familiarities of Tonga.
“Manaia [Atuaia] was the first person to approach me in school, and he was my first friend at Kahuku,” Lutu Latu said. “Also, Manaia pushed me into playing football because of my body. Also my neighbor, Peter Kenese, he would always wake me up in the morning to go for a run before seminary.”
Manaia Atuaia played middle linebacker at Kahuku and is the son of Alema Atuaia, who played football at BYU in the mid-1990’s. Manaia is also the nephew of former BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia, who is currently coaching at the University of Virginia. Manaia Atuaia has taken Lutu Latu under his wing and is teaching him how to play football.
“I have friends here like Manaia who teaches me how to play football,” said Lutu Latu. “He teaches me how to play football and I’m learning how to play D-line and I’m a punter.”
While playing rugby at Tonga High School, Lutu Latu dominated on the field playing every position but a few. His on-the-field prowess was inherited from his father, Sione Latu, who played for Tonga and Japan in two Rugby World Cup tournaments.
“I play almost every position except scrum half, hooker, and prop,” Lutu Latu said. “I mostly play number 15 and number eight.”
That means at 6-3, 250-pounds, Lutu Latu also plays wing, which at that size would have been remarkable, given that fact the wing position is reserved normally for speedy ball carriers. However, Sekope comically admits he only played wing against older teams so as to make up for the size to speed ratio.
“I’m not that fast,” Sekope humbly stated. “I only played wing against older teams.”
However, Kahuku High School offensive line coach David Vimahi had this to say about Lutu Latu’s unique physical abilities.
“He’s a good kid and he’s got a quick twitch,” said Coach Vimahi who played at BYU from 1990-91. “He’s also working on the D-line, good size.”
This means BYU is getting a possible two for one prospect in Lutu Latu. Not only does the 6-3, 250-pound sophomore reported to have outstanding quickness suitable for a defensive lineman, but he can also punt a football into the stratosphere.
“Yes, he’s got a boot that is unreal,” said Coach Vimahi. “With only two weeks of learning how to punt, he consistently punts the football 70-plus yards. He’s only a sophomore!”
“I’m the kicker of every rugby team I’ve played on, and my dad taught me how to kick,” said Lutu Latu. “Coach Mahe first came to me and saw me. I just punted the ball 75 yards.”
Coach Vimahi had alerted BYU staff member Jack Damuni about this new wonder boy straight from the islands of Tonga. BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe, who had flown out to Hawaii to recruit the islands, went to see what the stir was all about.
“I told JD (Jack Damuni) about him and then Reno [Mahe] was here a couple of weeks ago and saw him punt at Laie Park,” said Coach Vimahi. “He was amazed! He’s only a sophomore.”
Could this 6-3, 250-pound Tongan sophomore gem become the next Ziggy Ansah but in the form of BYU punter Jonny Linehan as a converted rugby star? Well, that is uncertain. But what is certain is that the decision to leave his mother and Tonga behind in hopes of a better life has certainly paid off. BYU extended a scholarship offer to Lutu Latu, who committed to be a Cougar without hesitation.
“I committed to BYU,” Lutu Latu said with humble excitement. “This is my first time and I’m excited. I’m very excited.”
Lutu Latu’s commitment to BYU has fulfilled the dreams of his family and has fulfilled the sacrifice of a mother still waiting for word far away in Tonga. After making such a sacrifice, Lutu Latu’s decision to quickly commit to BYU was an easy choice to make.
“I believe in keeping my faith and my religion,” he said. “It will take me further in life. Also, BYU has a big fan base. Also, it’s been my dream to go to BYU because that’s what my family wanted me to do. I can’t wait to get to BYU!”
However, long before Lutu Latu ever suits up in a blue and white uniform, he’ll suit up in a white shirt and tie. He plans on putting aside his unique skillset for two years to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to repay what he feels is a blessing born out of sacrifice.
“Yes, I can’t wait to serve the Lord because he gives me blessings,” said Lutu Latu humbly said. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
Congratulations to the Sekope Lutu Latu for committing to go to college and play football at BYU. BYU nation gives a hearty thanks and special congratulations to his mother, Atafa Fusipala Latu, who is still waiting back home on the isles of Tonga.