Deuce Lutui is a warrior for his team, family and faith

Published: Monday, Dec. 27 2010 5:00 a.m. MST

As a youngster, Lutui loved football and the Arizona Cardinals. He dreamed of one day playing in the NFL and using his paychecks to provide a better life for his family.

Despite short parents (both are under 5-foot-6), Lutui was blessed with height, girth and strength. "Deuce is kind of an anomaly," Sikahema said.

The powerfully built Tongan started both ways and excelled on the field at Mesa High. He earned all the right honors and accolades.

Originally, he signed with the University of Utah but didn't qualify academically. He spent a year at Mesa Community College but transferred to Snow College after the coaching staff was fired.

Lutui's stellar play continued at Snow, but off the field he struggled with personal challenges. He was in an unfamiliar environment. He needed help academically, and there were problems with his citizenship status. It was also a period of growth he said that "molded him into a man."

"Snow was truly one of the hardest times of my career," he said.

Lutui wanted to serve an LDS mission, but due to complications with his citizenship status following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it didn't work out.

Academically, Lutui found support in Claudia Olsen, who works in Snow's student support services program and advises the Polynesian Club. He still calls her "Mom" to this day.

"Claudia took care of me," Lutui said. "She was an inspiration."

Ephraim is also where Lutui met his wife, Pua Heimuli of West Valley City, Utah, who also helped him improve his grades. They met when he sat in front of her in class, and she couldn't see around him.

"She constantly tapped my shoulder to get me to move," Lutui said. "She was really just flirting. That's how we hit it off."

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, then-USC coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow decided they needed the best junior college offensive lineman in the country. Chow traveled to Snow College and saw Lutui play. That was enough. They had found their man.

Lutui considered BYU and Nebraska, but committed to USC because it was an opportunity to maximize his talents, much to the disappointment of his cousin Vai, a former Cougar great.

"I think he could sense the bigger picture," Chow said. "There was nothing wrong with going to an LDS school, but when you reach higher, when your goals are higher and you do something different, then the rewards are greater. I think that sold him, that he could be the best he could be."

A Trojan missionary

Lutui laughed when he said he was the only married player on the team at USC but not the only one with a kid. "If you are not careful, it would be easy to get caught up in worldly things there," he said.

Lutui said his testimony really developed during his time at USC. He excitedly tackled then-President Gordon B. Hinckley's challenge to read the Book of Mormon. He began with a chapter a day and soon craved the scriptures over food.

Lutui viewed his athletic talent as a way to do missionary work. Deuce and Pua also delighted in inviting teammates over for dinner and family home evening. "They would come over for the free food, not knowing we were going to share our religion," he said.

Coach Chow, a convert to the church, occasionally scheduled firesides and informed Lutui he was one of the main speakers. On one such occasion, Lutui's friend and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Matt Leinart, who is not a Mormon, was persuaded to speak at a fireside. When Leinart asked Lutui for advice, the strapping lineman told him to "just say the church is true." The QB almost complied.

Chow scheduled the firesides on the advice of Steve Young.

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