From among the sandy beaches and lazy palms of sunny Laie, Hawaii, J.L. Lavea said goodbye to his family and took a leap of faith. He followed his aunt and uncle, Sina and Vai Notoa, to Orem, Utah where he chose to walk an uncertain path in hopes of a brighter future.
"It was really hard for me to leave my family," Lavea said as he recalled the day he said goodbye. "It was hard to say goodbye to my home back in Laie and come to a new place I didn't really know much about. I took a leap of faith. It's not easy leaving my family, but still I felt it was the right thing to do to help me get to where I needed to be."
J.L. left his mother, Mele, and father, Joe, who currently reside in Laie, Hawai'i to live in Utah near Orem High School. The Notoa family took in J.L. as one of their own in an effort to give their nephew a greater opportunity.
"I came to Utah to stay with my aunt Sina and uncle Vai so I could play football against different talent and get exposure," said Lavea. "I'm really grateful for them. My aunt and uncle make sure I stay on track and have really looked out after me from day one. I'm grateful for them because they provide me a place to stay, feed me, and it's like I'm still back home in Hawai'i. I'm really grateful for them for all they do for me. Without them I don't think what has happened to me would have happened so quickly."
What J.L. is referring to is a life-changing experience that recently occurred. Following an Orem football game, Lavea was informed that he had received an offer from BYU via their director of recruiting operations Tevita Ofahengaue. The news came as a shock for young J.L.
"I'm just so grateful and thankful for the offer, and I'm still in shock that I was offered this early by BYU," said Lavea. "I was really shocked when I heard that I got offered. It really surprised me! I didn't really know what to think and was really grateful for the offer. I'm just grateful all the hard work and the sacrifices everyone made in my life [having] paid off for me. I knew that if I kept working hard something good would happen. I have a lot of people to thank for getting me to where I am today."
Looking back, Lavea's list of gratitude is as long as the Ko'olau Mountain range, which nearly extends the length of Oahu. He thanked his parents for allowing him to leave to Utah for an opportunity, and he thanked his aunt Sina and uncle Vai Notoa for taking care of him while in Utah. With a gratitude that never ceases, Lavea also went back to thank his first coaches who first taught him the fundamentals of the game of football. Fundamentals that grew into a love for the game first taught to him back on the spotted grassy fields of Laie Park.
"When I was in D2 my coach was Luka Matagi and Aisa Wiley who taught me how to play football," recalled Lavea. "They really helped me and pushed me to be the best I could be. They taught me a lot and from there everything just kind of grew for me. I'm grateful for all my coaches back at Laie Park. I don't think if I didn't have them to help me at an early age I wouldn't be here now."
When Lavea first learned of his BYU offer, his excitement and gratitude for all involved immediately tempered as thoughts of love for his mother and father back home in Laie filled his heart.
"I was so excited and this was one of the reasons why I came here to Utah," said Lavea. "When I called and told them that I got an offer from BYU they were so excited! It let them know that I didn't just come here to play around. My mom was so happy and excited! They were so grateful."
Only a high school freshman, Lavea, who comes in at around 6-0, 210-pounds, plays middle linebacker for Orem High School's varsity team where the coaching baton has been handed off. While Orem High School has struggled overall this season, Lavea is personally in good hands. He is currently being coached by former BYU middle linebacker great Uani ‘Unga, who played for the NFL's New York Giants, and former New York Jets and Houston Texans lineman Tevita Finau.
"I just need to continue working hard and not let things distract me from reaching my goals," said Lavea. "BYU is my first offer and it's so humbling for me to know they think I'm good enough to play for them. I just have to keep working hard to show them that I'm worthy of the offer when I graduate from high school.
"I have to stay focused with my grades and uncle Vai and aunt Sina keep me in line with that. I just have to keep working hard so I can be worthy of BYU's offer that was given to me. Now I have to keep my grades straight and keep working hard in the classroom so I can show the coaches that I'm worthy of the scholarship they've offered me."
"I just want to thank the BYU coaches for believing in me and giving me the opportunity," Lavea said. "This really is a dream come true for me and I'm grateful all the sacrifice and hard work paid off. I couldn't be more excited about my offer from BYU!"