X-Man Gets Sophomore Offer to Become Y-Man

BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall's unorthodox strategy of offering scholarships to both highly-touted and little-known sophomores may be regarded as a stroke of genius by some knowledgeable Cougar observers, even as others scratch their heads in bewilderment.

The latest sophomore scholarship recipient, Xavier Suafilo, was relatively unknown to Cougar fans until he emerged as one of the most impressive athletes this past week at BYU's four-day, full-contact football camp. The 16-year-old began his sophomore season last year on Timpview High School's junior varsity team and was moved up after the third game and started as a tight end on a varsity squad that won the Utah 4A State Football Championship.

Because of the BYU coaches' prior extensive background research on Xavier, as well as his superior camp performance against heralded upperclassmen, Xavier and his parents, Ifi and Candida, got to meet with Mendenhall last Thursday evening after the conclusion of the BYU camp. They walked away mightily impressed.

The 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound Xavier, who has a 3.2 cumulative GPA, recounted his initial reaction to getting the scholarship offer, saying it left him speechless.

"I didn't think I'd get an offer this early in my high school career. It was an honor. [Mendenhall] told me to take my time, think about it, pray about it, and not to make a commitment until we made a firm decision. He told me to worry more about finishing my last two years strong.

"I was really nervous at first, but when I got there [Coach Mendenhall's office] I felt really comfortable. I got the feeling this could be the right place for me. He wasn't just talking about football and you get the impression he really cares about you as a person and not just about football."

Recognizing the significance of the first scholarship offer to his sophomore son, Ifi said, "I was really impressed with how far ahead they [BYU] plan in terms of how specific kids fit into their program. I know Xavier was very flattered, overwhelmed and humbled, actually."

Indeed, Coach Mendenhall's sophomore scholarship strategy has already paid early dividends, with non-binding 2009 verbal commitments from Utah prep star Adam Timo (Snow Canyon High) and relative unknown Jray Galea'i (Timpview High/Kahuku High). Though he was not a starter for Timpview last season, Galea'i is projected as a BYU defensive back and is considered an exceptional athlete. In addition, he moved to Honolulu and was recently named the starting junior quarterback after spring football for this coming season for powerhouse Kahuku High School, the 2006 Hawaii State Champions.

The highest profile sophomore scholarship offer from Coach Mendenhall was recently extended to gridiron sensation Manti Te'o (Punahou School), already projected by college scouting experts as one of the best-ever recruits from Hawaii.

Xavier pointed out that Coach Mendenhall briefly discussed his early offer strategy. "He said to me that people might not agree with his logic, while some might. Regardless of what people might think, he said he will not give up that scholarship until he feels it is right.

Ifi said, "[Mendenhall] told us, ‘I don't want you to respond right away.' Our son told him, ‘It's a big decision and I have to pray about it and talk to my parents,' and Coach Mendenhall encouraged him and us to do that.

"We don't know when he'll [Xavier] commit, but Coach Mendenhall said to pray about it and ask the Lord for guidance in making the right choice. We're just flattered. We don't want to play any recruiting games and Coach Mendenhall is not putting any pressure on us [to commit early]. It's a great honor for [Xavier] to be offered a scholarship this early, but he needs to improve each year.

"It's Xavier's first offer, but he has received letters from Texas Tech, Utah, Colorado, UNLV, and we went to the USC camp several weeks ago and we don't know how much interest they have. No one else has contacted us yet."

Though BYU is clearly the early favorite because of it offered before anyone else, Xavier said his current top five college choices would be BYU, Utah, Colorado, Boise State and USC. In earlier testing, Xavier recorded a 4.98 forty and a 28 ½-inch vertical jump, and bench pressed 185 pounds 18 times. His father, meanwhile, made no secret of his football preference for his son.

"I kind of think that if Xavier sees programs outside Utah, he'll see what a good thing BYU is," said Ifi. "I really hope he decides to go to BYU. His dream as a young kid since second grade was always to play for the Miami Hurricanes, but BYU is looking like a much better place to go to school.

"My wife also feels [BYU] is the place we can have full trust in the coaches and know our son is in the right place doing the right thing. I've tried to make sure he stayed humble. He's also excited to see a lot of his friends go to BYU. I want him to be around a group of his peers with similar values and manners.

"It's a great place to send your kid and hope that those things continue. It's close to home and that's a plus. I think as he gets older, he'll realize what a good thing he has in his own back yard."

Ifi also pointed out that Coach Mendenhall further outlined "the direction of the program. I think he's had more success than most people expected him to have this early. I really didn't think he'd have the kind of success he's had and I think it's because he demands more from his players. I know it's a really good environment for kids that want to serve a mission. Xavier has firm mission plans and he has three years before he turns 19.

"Coach Mendenhall said they want to step it up and break into the BCS somehow. His level of commitment to these boys really impressed me. He's for real. He wants them to succeed spiritually, academically and also in life. Football was the last of his four priorities for these kids – character development, academic growth, spiritual growth and football."

Xavier also reaffirmed that "Coach Mendenhall talked about the four things that BYU looks at in an athlete before they recruit them or extend an offer. I noticed the thing that came last on the list was actually the football or athletics part. He talked about character, academics, what type of a person you are and then football. I really thought that was neat because at most college universities, they just look at what you can do on the field. I know BYU looks at more things in the athlete than just football.

"Coach Mendenhall was saying that BYU isn't for everyone, but if you do get a scholarship to come here it should be looked at as an honor and a privilege because more is expected out of you than just football. I just thought that was amazing. I was so excited that I didn't know what to say. I just listened most of the time and just felt it was an honor because this has never happened to me before."

Asked about his firsthand impressions of Coach Mendenhall, Xavier said, "He's a really different guy from TV. On TV, he looks serious. When I met him, he's really kind, down-to-earth and very considerate of family and others. But you know he's really serious about what he expects from his players and what's going to happen to the program. I think BYU can only get better…the way Coach Mendenhall is doing things, it will get better.

"One of my favorite things about Coach Mendenhall is that in two years he's only taken back one scholarship offer he's given out to someone. I asked him the question, ‘What if I get injured?' He told me that it wouldn't matter because there would still be a scholarship for me. I just thought, ‘Wow!' At most universities, if you get hurt they don't want you anymore and will move on to recruit someone else. He said it didn't matter because he's looking for guys that are worthy and are willing to work hard and put in the effort to win.

"When he said that, I knew he cared more for me as a person than just caring for me because I can play football. He told me that he didn't care if I got hurt and that the offer would still stand. It's really hard to express in words how I felt about that. I just feel like I've been really blessed, you know?"

Cougar coaches have had great success recruiting top-level talent from Timpview. Before the BYU camp, Cougar coaches were very much aware of Xavier and had extensively evaluated him.

"I didn't know this, but I was told the [BYU] coaches were in a meeting and were talking about me before the camp," Xavier said. "They were talking about how they wanted to see me perform at the camp and put me through a toughness test.

"At the camp, they put me through all these drills. They had me go through tons of reps in the one-on-one drills and Oklahoma drills to see if I could handle it physically. I guess I did well enough and impressed them."

The camp ended with Xavier walking away with an award for one of the camp's top defensive lineman.

"I was really hoping that I could do really well at the camp," said Xavier. My dad told me that all of my hard work was going to pay off some time soon. I just believed what he told me and just kept working hard."

Though it's likely he will end up as an offensive lineman in college, Xavier said, "Coach Mendenhall said he lets kids start where they want to play and they evaluate them to decide what's best for the team. My favorite position is tight end, but I'm learning to play offensive tackle and enjoying it more. I'll be playing mainly offensive tackle this year at Timpview."

"Coach Mendenhall said [defensive line] Coach [Steve] Kaufusi wants Xavier to play d-line and the o-line coach [Mark Weber] also wants him," said Ifi.

As for his favorite college team from childhood, Xavier said, "I've said this before, but my dream was to always be a Miami Hurricane. Now that I've had the chance to really think about it, going over there is so far away from home. Last year, a linebacker got shot over there and they got into a fight on the football field. That's just not the type of environment I want to be around. If Miami comes calling, I'll listen, but I have a mission to think about.

"Over here at BYU, when you walk on the campus – and we got to sit in the middle of the field in the stadium [during the BYU camp] – I just felt good. I felt, not just because of safety reasons, that this could be the place for me. I'm really looking to be at a place that will keep me on the right track."

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