Timpview High School athlete Raider Damuni received a call from his father Jack recently, asking him to head to BYU to get some food. It was his birthday and he was ready to celebrate his special day, but when he arrived on campus he received a special gift from Kalani Sitake that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
"I was at home and my dad called me to come to his office," said Damuni. "He was saying that there was dinner over there for me. We walked into Coach Kalani [Sitake]'s office and he was sitting there."
Thinking he was going to eat some food and maybe have some cake with his dad for his birthday, Raider Damuni followed his father as they began to walk to the SAB building.
"I was thinking it was just going to be a birthday party or something," said Damuni. "It was weird because I just followed my dad wherever he went. He just kept walking and walked to Coach [Sitake]'s office and we both sat down."
While sitting in Coach Sitake's office, Raider saw there was no food or cake. Just BYU's head coach sitting at his desk. Quickly confusion sat in for Raider as he wondered what was going on.
"I looked and he was just watching film and he told me to take a seat," Damuni said. "He began by saying he was grateful that my family moved down here from Maui and said how grateful he was that my dad was working there."
Then BYU's head coach surprised him with a special birthday gift that surprised him.
"He then said how grateful he was for how good of a person I am off the field and on the field. He then said that he wanted to offer me a scholarship."
Completely unexpected, the words uttered by Coach Sitake left Raider speechless. It was the best birthday gift he's ever received.
"He offered me a scholarship and I was just speechless and didn't know what to say," said Damuni. "I couldn't even say anything. I finally said thank you but I was in complete shock. That was the best gift I've ever gotten. It was by far that was the best present I've ever had."
With that gift, Raider Damuni honors his family. His grandparents Emosi, who has since passed away, and Sereima "Nana" Damuni, who now resides in Logan, Utah, were pioneers in the LDS faith among the Fijian people. They helped establish the Fijian village at the Polynesian Cultural Center and through dance and tradition brought the Fijian culture to millions as stalwarts from the Laie community in Hawai'i.
Upon receiving his offer, Damuni called his grandparents letting them know of his accomplishments. His grandparents Boyd and Maile Mossman, who reside in Maui, heard the news and his gratitude for all the support they had given him over the years.
"I called my grandparents because they supported me a lot," said Damuni. "When we were living in Maui they always came to my games and watched me play. When I told them I got a scholarship from BYU they were super proud of me."
After all the news went out to the family and all the excitement finally calmed, Raider Damuni finally got a chance to eat in celebration of his offer and commitment to BYU on the very special birthday.
"Yeah, we did go eat after that," he said with a chuckle in his voice. "We went to Brick Oven and it was my birthday too that day, so getting the scholarship offer from BYU was the best birthday gift I've ever gotten."
Only in the eighth grade, Damuni enters into an elite class of prospects to have ever been offered by BYU at such a young age. Paul Finau of Washington was offered by Bronco Mendenhall. Eighth graders Sione Lolohea of Maui and Kendall Milton were both offered by Coach Sitake last year. Now Raider Damuni joins this small, but yet elite group to have accomplished such a feat. However, Damuni made history as the first to ever commit to BYU.
"I wanted to commit to BYU because I love Coach Kalani and his staff, and growing up I've always wanted to go BYU," Damuni said. "I can serve a mission without being questioned or pressured not to."
Making BYU history seems to run in the Damuni family. His father Jack Damuni was the first Fijian in history to receive a scholarship offer to play division one football. He received it from former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards and roamed the Cougar defensive backfield as a strong safety from 1993 to 1994. His son Raider will now continue the Damuni legacy at BYU.
"When I was at a young age I found out my dad played there," said Damuni. "Since then I've always wanted to play at BYU because I knew my dad played there and now I have that chance. I think that's really cool. That's why I committed."
Now that he's committed to BYU, young Raider Damuni understands that the spotlight will be shinning on him in everything he does. Wise beyond his years, Damuni knows he'll have to live up to the offer by being an example both in the classroom, in his church responsibilities, and on the football field.
"I know it's a big deal to get a scholarship from BYU, so now I have to do everything I can to show that I'm worthy of it," Raider Damuni said. "I have to make the extra effort to do more than the average kid is doing. I have make sure my grades are good and not slacking in school. Off the field I have to be a humble person and listen to my mom and dad."
A member of the 2021 class, Raider Damuni has a long ways to go before he will play at BYU. However, he fully understands that with his commitment comes the added responsibility of being an example to those around him now that the spotlight has been turned on.
"I now have to represent my family and the church in everything I do," said Damuni. "I have to be a good person to everybody and be the best I can be. That's what I have to do now."