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BYU football: Uona Kaveinga at peace with Cougars

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 2:15 p.m. MDT

Linebacker Uona Kaveinga fights off a blocker during drills on day five of BYU fall football camp, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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PROVO — Uona Kaveinga has yet to see a single rep during a game for the BYU football team. Nevertheless, tremendous praise is being heaped upon him by his fellow teammates and by his coaching staff.

This is almost unheard of from a coach such as Bronco Mendenhall, who is very selective with his praise of players, particularly defensive players.

“Uona has shown to be someone who is completely dedicated to our program,” said Mendenhall. “I like his attitude, I like how he practices, and he’s a play-maker and a leader. I’m very happy that he’s in our program.”

Mendenhall isn’t alone in that sentiment. Through practice and workout sessions he’s endeared himself to many of his defensive teammates.

“I love the feeling of having a great middle linebacker playing behind me,” said defensive lineman Romney Fuga. “I’ll have that with Uona. It makes what we’re doing fun, with how he plays.”

After signing with USC out of high school and spending two years in its program, he opted to transfer to BYU. The decision to transfer to BYU was due, in no small part, to a commitment he made to Mendenhall back in January 2008.

The Cougar head coach briefly related the reason why Kaveinga came back.

“He said that, 'I told you that I was coming, and I didn’t, and it bothered me,' and he came back," Mendenhall said. "He belongs here, and he’s a fantastic fit.”

Kaveinga had verbally committed to BYU, but after a hectic three-week period he opted to sign with the Trojans.

“BYU is the place for me,” he said of his decision to commit to the Cougars back in January 2008 following his official visit to BYU. “It’s the feeling that you get when you’re there, even more so than the football program. They have a great football program for sure, but the main reason I chose BYU is because of how I feel there when I’m there on my visits.”

What happened from then until signing day Feb. 6 of that year is one of the more interesting and frustrating recruit stories.

The coverage most recruits receive is a positive experience. It’s the first major media exposure for these top football prospects, and they love it. But in a select few cases, it can prove to be a negative experience, especially if the recruit starts to struggle with his commit decision. While Kaveinga was nothing but completely positive after his verbal commitment to BYU, that soon changed.

Rumors started to surface of him making an official trip to USC. After confirming with the family that he did make that trip, calls were made regarding his commit to BYU.

Kaveinga didn’t respond to any of these calls.

“I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I mean no one at all,” said the Lawndale, Calif., native. “It was a confusing time for me. I was young, and I really didn’t know how to best handle all of it, so I just decided to talk to no one because I really didn’t have anything to say to them.”

What happened to Kaveinga was the massive recruiting machine that is USC. The Trojans were accustomed to getting whomever they wanted during that period, and they wanted Uona Kaveinga.

After his commit to BYU, he made calls to both the USC and UCLA coaching staffs to inform them of his decision to sign with BYU. One seemed to care that he made his commit to BYU, the other didn’t.

“I really thought that I was done, that it was over after I committed to BYU,” he said. “USC though, they seriously acted like I wasn’t even committed. They started visiting my school, contacting me and my coaches almost every day after I committed to BYU, it seemed.”

During this intense recruiting by USC, BYU fans were left wondering if he would hold his commitment made to the Cougar coaching staff. Kaveinga wasn’t returning any phone calls, so there was no way to know for certain.

Many took his silence as an indication that he was ditching BYU for USC until his father relayed he would hold his commitment to the Cougars.

Shortly after that, however, it was announced that Kaveinga would make his commitment decision on Fox Sports, just days before letter-of-intent day.

So why go forward with a press conference if he was holding his commit to BYU? Was he calling it to reaffirm his decision in front of the media? Such a scenario seemed unlikely.

Sure enough, Kaveinga announced on Fox Sports that he would sign with USC. Some of his family attended the press conference with BYU hats on, and there was a bit of a dour atmosphere over the proceedings.

“A lot of my family wanted me to go to BYU, so they weren't sure of my decision,” he said. “I think in my heart I knew BYU was the best place for me, but it’s so hard to turn down coaches like Pete Carroll and Norm Chow, especially growing up where I did. Every school has so much to offer, and USC had a lot to offer me, in my mind at the time, so I just couldn’t turn them down.”

As Mendenhall related, Kaveinga could never get BYU out of his mind while he was playing for the Trojans.

“Looking back, I really don’t consider my decision to sign and then play for USC as a mistake, I really don’t,” he said. “A lot of people might say that I made a bad choice, but I don’t see it that way. I’m where I need to be now, and that is what’s important. I don’t look back at my decision and regret it. There’s nothing to regret. What’s important is that I came to realize that BYU was the best place for me, no matter how I came to know that.”

Kaveinga is firmly entrenched in the BYU football program, and although he’s yet to play a single down for the team, he’s already earned a lot of respect from his teammates.

Not only has senior veteran linebacker Jordan Pendleton not played in a game with him, he hasn’t even practiced with him yet. Despite that, he already feels a strong bond with teammate.

“I can tell just by seeing him practice and work out that we’re going to work great together,” he said. “His attitude, the way he plays, that’s exactly the guy I want to play with at middle linebacker. He brings just an intensity to the game, how can’t you respect that?”

It’s been more than a year since Kaveinga has seen action in a real football game. It’s been much longer than just that one year since he’s had the opportunity to log significant reps at middle linebacker.

As one could well imagine, he’s champing at the bit.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute here at BYU, but if I had to wait to play much longer, I don’t know if I could do it,” he said. “I love this team, I love my teammates and I love everything about BYU. Now, to get the chance to represent them on the field? That’s what it’s all about for me, and I want to do my best to represent as best I can.”

Email: bgurney@desnews.com, Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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