Afutiti Back with the Cougars

Bernard Afutiti was a dominant force on the defensive line prior to Coach Mendenhall putting him on hiatus to allow him to concentrate on getting his academics in order. Since last Thursday, Afutiti has been back practicing with the team.

Bernard Afutiti was one of the top players from Keiser High School in Fontana, California. As a 6-foot, 220-pound junior middle linebacker, he led the Mission Conference with 137 tackles and 17 sacks. After a two-year stint at the junior college level, Afutiti grew to become a highly recruited defensive tackle. USC offered him a scholarship, as did others such as Oregon State and Utah. Ohio State and Michigan came calling as well.

After a recruiting trip to BYU, Afutiti committed to Coach Mendenhall and his program. But after Afutiti fell behind in his academics at BYU, Coach Mendenhall decided that Afutiti needed to get his priorities in order. Afutiti soon had to hang up the cleats.

"I feel behind in my classes and, honestly, I just had to get myself on the same level as the coaches," Afutiti said. "I got my teachers to talk to them and they showed them how far I've come. I've been able to make up for some of the mistakes I made in the past and come back to practice."

With a new attitude and perspective, Afutiti said he is working harder than ever to make sure he meets the program's requirements.

"I'm just focusing a lot more on school and trying to help out the team where I can," said Afutiti. "I'm just trying to do my best to get my academics in order. If you don't see me out here it's because I'm behind on something, and those are the rules now. If you don't have everything up to date you don't practice."

Coach Mendenhall mentioned to the media that Afutiti will practice but not play this year. Call this a learning and development process of the highest order for Afutiti.

"The coaches told me that the team is always here," Afutiti said. "They just basically told me that they wanted me to get my schooling in order. Academics come first and that's what they really stressed to me. As long as I keep doing that than the team will always be here. That's what they basically told me, so I just need to make sure that I get it done in the classroom so I can be on the team."

When it comes to Mendenhall's program, education comes first over football, and the former Mt. San Antonio Junior College defensive tackle understands that these coaches aren't joking when it comes to personal development outside the sport of football.

"That's a big thing that Coach Mendenhall emphasizes on," Afutiti said. "Education comes first with him. Sure, we're here because of football and that's why we were all brought here, but the most important thing is education and that comes first. We're student athletes, and student comes before the athlete and that's a big thing for Coach Mendenhall. He wants us to succeed in life first before anything else, and more than likely our education will help us achieve that in the future [rather] than football will. It's a big thing he stresses here to us."

Despite falling behind, Afutiti didn't quit. He made enough progress in the classroom that Coach Mendenhall and his staff has allowed him to return to the practice field.

"I came out here last Thursday, so I've been out here since then, and to be honest with you I feel a little out of it since I've been back," said Afutiti. "I'm not exactly where I want to be because I was away, but I'm just glad to have the cleats back on and be able to strap it up and run around with my teammates. Honestly, I'm just glad to get those pursuits out of the way, but overall practice has been awesome and I'm just glad to be back out on the field practicing with the team. I think the team deserves it."

Happy to be back on the field with his teammates, Afutiti doesn't expect to fall behind or go through this process again. It's been a lesson well-learned.

"Oh man, I'm so excited to be back with the team," said Afutiti with a smile. "It's awesome to be back on the field and with the team. It was really hard for me but I think I see things in a different way now. No more sitting out because of academics. I'm just going to make sure I get things done in the classroom so you can see me out here on the field. I'm so excited to be back."

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