Regardless of what people say, the Cougar coaching staff has fulfilled Elder Malosi Te'o's dream of one day being a Cougar. Malosi's father Ephraim talked to Total Blue Sports about when the Te'o family began discussing the possibility of Malosi enrolling at BYU.
"You know, Malosi called during Mothers' Day," said Ephraim. "A small portion of that call was reserved for business, and that was football. Later we had corresponded with Malosi and kind of said, ‘Hey, we want you to get this over with soon for two reasons. For one, we don't want you to think about this for the remaining time you have left on your mission, and two, people need to prepare, because no matter what decision you make, it's not fair that one college should hold a scholarship for you right up until the end, only to have you tell them, ‘I'm not going to go there.''"
Many feel the Cougar staff is "poaching" when it recruits missionaries that have previously committed to a particular football program, when in reality the LOI agreement between an athlete and a university is no longer binding after the athlete has gone 18 months without being enrolled at that university. College coaches seem to understand and accept that this is an aspect of their profession.
Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton, during his tenure as offensive coordinator for the University of Oregon, extended a scholarship offer to BYU tight end Dennis Pitta while he was serving in the Dominican Republic. Pitta was also extended an offer by the Oklahoma State coaching staff, one member of which is Todd Bradford, a former BYU assistant coach under Crowton.
The same scenario can be said for other Cougars such as Austin Collie, who was recruited by Stanford - among other schools - while serving a mission in Argentina, and the list of colleges recruiting missionary Cougars goes on and on.
Ephraim talked about the process Malosi went through as he began weighing his options, and about what the family's expectations for Malosi were.
"No matter what Malosi's decision was, he needed to communicate and write a letter, explain [his] decision, and be humble and thank them for the opportunity," said Ephraim. "That is how I wanted him to represent himself and our family name. After that we sat there and waited for his letter saying, ‘Mom and Dad, this is what my decision is and this is what I've decided to do.'"
However, the Te'o family never received a letter from Elder Te'o informing them of his post-mission desires. Instead, Elder Te'o wrote a letter to one person, and that was someone who gave him a chance to play Division I football and get a college degree: UNLV assistant coach and former Cougar Keith Uperesa.
"That letter arrived at UNLV," Ephraim said while laughing. "I then heard from my brother Brian [Te'o], who is Manti's dad, who said, ‘Hey, I heard that Malosi committed to BYU.' I said, ‘Oh, not that I know of bro. I'm still waiting on that letter.'"
Soon Ephraim received a phone call from Uperesa and learned firsthand of his son's plans to become a Cougar.
"During my conversation with Keith Uperesa, he read a portion of the letter to me, and I couldn't dispute the fact that my son told him that he planned on committing to BYU," said Ephraim. "I don't think we've even had a chance to tell BYU about it yet."
According to Ephraim, Uperesa understands and supports Elder Te'o's decision, regardless of how disappointing it may be for him.
"You know, Keith is a champ," said Ephraim. "Of course he was kind of disappointed, but being in the college football business, he understood that this was part of it. I told Keith that Malosi was really torn and that this was a very difficult decision for him. I told him that the only loyalty he had was to [him] and to Mike [Sanford]. Then of course there was the struggle he's always had of wanting to go to BYU since he was really young.
"Keith said, ‘Hey, I know how it is with these decisions. I'm just here to support the Te'o boys, and it looks like he has made a decision and I support that. I don't fault him at all for doing that, and when you get an opportunity like that, kids can make up their own minds on what they want to do.' So that was the nature of our conversations and [Uperesa is] just a class act. I can see why it was such a hard decision for Malosi."
With both Riley Nelson and Malosi Te'o choosing to become BYU Cougars following their missions, what is normally a non-issue has erupted into controversy and has become a heated topic of discussion in the media.
"You know, BYU has never even talked to my son," said Ephraim. "Coach Mendenhall, when he wanted to make the offer, told us, ‘Hey, I don't know how to break this in to him, so I'm going to leave this on your shoulders and the mission president to do it.' You know what, Coach Mendenhall is very sensitive to kids serving missions because he doesn't want this to become a distraction to them."
But since BYU hasn't talked with Malosi, how did the Cougar coaches first find out about his interest in becoming a Cougar? Malosi can thank his parents for getting the word out.
"I told some reporters from Salt Lake that, number one, BYU did not talk to my son and they did not do any recruiting of my son," said Ephraim. "It was us who put the feeler out to BYU. I just want to tell you factually how it went. We were the ones that put out the feeler first to BYU, and even then they still didn't respond to us immediately. On Mother's Day, Malosi wanted to know if BYU would still be interested in him, and that's why me and my wife put out the feelers and sent a link out to BYU."
Despite already being well past the required 18-month time frame in which Malosi was not enrolled at UNLV, the Cougar coaching staff waited until the right time to respond back to the Te'o family.
"I'm sure they went through an evaluating process, and then when the time was right they got back to us, so that makes sense to me and tells me exactly why they waited to get back to us," said Ephraim. "They called my wife and I and gave Malosi the offer and left it up to us to break the news to him.
"I think Bronco understands the sensitive nature of informing missionaries they have a scholarship offer waiting for them when they get home. I think the reason is just [because] people will make it an issue, and then he has to respond to them. When you do things right - and BYU did, and we believe as parents we did, and, more importantly, our son did - there's nothing there to really worry about. I don't want my son to be thought of that way and I know my son doesn't either."
Ephraim said he and his family are very happy with how things turned out for Malosi.
"I really do think more LDS athletes are going to flock to BYU because there's never going to be a compromise of one's integrity or ever [someone asking] someone to compromise their integrity," Ephraim said. "If anything, it will be, ‘Hey, this is the school for you where you can be among your values, and we're here for you." Obviously for Malosi, that was his cup of tea, and when that happens to be your dream school, what can you say? As for us, we are so delighted and feel blessed that Malosi has the chance to go to BYU. To me as a parent, you can't ask for a better blessing for your own kid. I'm just excited for Malosi because there are so many kids that want to go to BYU, and I'm very grateful and I can't take that for granted."