X-Man Gives Personal Insight Into Junior Day

BYU recruit Xavier Suafilo attended BYU's recent Junior Day with his father Ifi. TBS caught up with Xavier to get his perspective on how the day's activities went and what stood out most to him.

One aspect of Junior Day that stood out to Xavier Suafilo was the singing duet of Robert Anae and Mark Atuaia.

"I thought that was pretty neat," said a chuckling Suafilo. "Afterwards my dad went up to them and asked them if they could sing during our sacrament meeting.

"I really liked the program they put together over this last year. They were right in talking about how they have a good coaching staff, and how all they can do is move up."

Another aspect that stood out to Suafilo was Coach Mendenhall's introductory statements about how BYU isn't for everyone.

"[Mendenhall] said it would be hard and that it won't be easy, and I liked that," said Suafilo. "He also said that he wasn't here to recruit you. He said he was there to educate us about college and what they have to offer. He said it wasn't his job to just coach but to educate us on life and BYU."

During Coach Mendenhall's PowerPoint presentation, he spoke about what is most important and how an athlete should place those things first when both choosing a university.

"Some colleges say this is the place for you and if you come you should go to class and play football," said Suafilo. "Coach Mendenhall actually put athletics third behind your faith and academics. He said it was going to be hard and if you're not on track every day, then you can get yourself in trouble because at [BYU] they're really nails on the rules, and I really like that."

One of the unique points gained from Coach Mendenhall was the number of return missionaries found on the team, something that is a major facet of the program's tradition.

"I like how he said they have 73 return missionaries [and] that going to BYU and then serving a mission is part of the tradition they have there," said Suafilo. "That's more than any college in the nation. [Mendenhall said] that this is a program where they are able to incorporate our faith into everything they do, not only in playing [football] but also in life."

Coach Mendenhall also spoke about the symbolism of being a personal flag bearer. Suafilo talked about the responsibility one has while playing for BYU.

"When you play football or play anything at BYU you're not only representing your team, your coaches and yourself, but also your religion and your university. When you do something wrong they don't just look at you, but also to your team and your coaches. You represent more than just your name and you team."

So what is it about the discipline and extra demands placed upon BYU's student athletes - Coach Mendenhall expects his players to participate in community service and organize the firesides that more than 30,000 people have attended over the past two years - that attract Suafilo?

"Probably because I'm LDS also and I share a lot of those beliefs," Suafilo said. "Some people turn away from that, but I look at it as a good thing because when it comes to doing stuff like that, it's better and can only help the kid stay on track and be a good kid.

Suafilo said that his options are still open, but that the presentation and the message shared helped give him a larger perspective, not just in regards to college, but in life as well.

Coach Mendenhall may have set out to simply educate those in attendance, but by the time he set down that microphone and put away his PowerPoint clicker, he inspired many to want to be simply better.

"I think it made everybody who was there feel that way," said Suafilo. "I haven't decided quite yet like Craig [Bills]. I have been offered to play there with a full-ride scholarship, and I would have to say that people know that, so I have to do what's right so people will say, ‘Hey, look at that kid. He's on the right track.' I liked what Coach Mendenhall said because he didn't sugarcoat anything."

Suafilo said he enjoyed listening to Coach Mendenhall read a passage from an issue of the Ensign. The passage, written by Gordon B. Hinckley, dealt with why BYU is unique from other universities.

"I liked how [Mendenhall] said he did that introduction for those that didn't really know him and to trust him a little better," said Suafilo. "Because, he's a guy that telling you all these things and you might not really know him, so I really liked how he did that to help create more credibility. He read how BYU was a unique place and he described how unique means different than any other place in the world. You know, I had a lot of fun and I think he's great and his whole coaching staff are just all good guys."

Every year Coach Mendenhall, his staff and his football team study the successes of a specific warrior culture and what made it triumphant. During his presentation, Coach Mendenhall spoke of the 300 Greek Hoplites from Sparta that fought at the battle of Thermopylae. Coach Mendenhall spoke of the fighting formation called the phalanx and the large Spartan shield called an aspis that each warrior carried.

"I really liked how he talked about the 300 Spartan Hoplites," said Suafilo. "What I remember most was Coach Mendenhall talking about how they used that phalanx formation where they would hold a spear in their right hand and a shield in their left hand.

"I liked how he talked about how the shield was used to protect the guy to the left of them, and if one man wasn't doing his job, another man could die. They were so outnumbered, but despite that they still all had each other's back like a brotherhood, and…were able to conquer so many of their enemies because they all did their job and they were all looking out for each other. I thought that was just great."

As Coach Mendenhall spoke about the 300 Spartans, he pointed around the room to rectangular pieces of cardboard that lined the walls. Each cardboard piece, made by every BYU football player on the team, was decorated with symbols, writings and even odd drawings depicting who they were as people and as football players.

"Coach Mendenhall said that the Spartans drew pictures on their shields to show the enemy what they were fighting for," said Suafilo. "They had [pictures of] their family, their country and representations of a bigger cause that they were fighting for, and so those shields, those cardboard things, were not all the same.

"You could look and see that everyone had different things written on their shields, but there was one thing that they all shared in common, and that was their faith. He said you don't have to be a member of the Church just as long as you are exercising your faith, and it was that one symbol that bonded them all together. I thought that was really neat because if you're not LDS, you're still one with everyone else, and I thought that was awesome. I really like BYU and really respect what they stand for and I think it's a great place."

Mendenhall stated that the Spartans all fought for something greater than themselves. That selfless value was something that he incorporated into his program over a year ago with the Band of Brothers motto. To help prove how this concept truly resonates within the heart of his team, he showed a picture snapped in the final seconds of BYU's win over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"I've seen that picture before, but I've never seen it up close like that," said Suafilo. "I really, really liked it and it was a really good example of how one guy was fighting for another. Coach Mendenhall could have said in the huddle ‘attack right' or ‘attack left' or ‘up the middle' so he could set up a diversion for one guy could get through. Coach Mendenhall just said go, and everyone went out there and pushed hard equally, and Denny found a way for his man to pick him up, which got him out of the way so Eathyn [Manumaleuna] could block the kick.

"I talked to Eathyn after the game and he said, ‘Man, don't look at me. It was a team effort and we were just looking out for each other and…we knew we were going to block it.' He said he knew they were going to block it."

During his talk about the 300 Spartan, Coach Mendenhall mentioned that the shields of his players had to be approved by the team for overall acceptance. Suafilo talked about what he would put on a shield if Coach Mendenhall asked him to pick something he would play for besides himself.

"I would probably put my family," said Suafilo. "I would probably put the sport I love and my religion. I don't know, and I would have to think about that more because Coach Mendenhall said they make all guys, the signees and the freshmen, make their own shield and present them to the team to see if they are worthy to a part of the brotherhood."

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