SALT LAKE CITY — Fullback Patrick Palau is the latest football commit from East High School in what looks to be a bumper crop for that program for the 2013 signing class. Palau committed to BYU, making him the fourth Leopard commit for 2013, with four to five more holding Division I offers.
John Fakahafua (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), an athlete capable of playing a number of positions, was the first to commit — to Utah State — in early May. He was later joined by defensive back prospect Zach Swenson (6-1, 185), who also committed to the Aggies.
BYU has been the other beneficiary of East's stellar class, securing commits from defensive lineman Merrill "Meti" Taliauli (6-2, 305) and then Palau (5-11, 240.)
"It's a great thing for our program to have so many kids get opportunities to play in college," said East coach Brandon Matich. "We've worked very hard as a staff to prepare our players for college and it's been one of our primary goals, so it's exciting to see that happen."
Matich was hired by East in 2010 after a very successful coaching stint at Park City. Since day one at East, he's focused on academics — making sure his players could qualify academically for whatever college program came forward with a potential scholarship offer.
Chief among Matich's moves to raise his athletes' academics was to implement after-school tutoring sessions. These sessions take place between the end of the school day and football practice.
Sure the sessions are optional — well, sort of.
"If you don't go, then coaches find something else for you to do, like run or other work to keep you busy. So almost everyone always shows up to them," said Palau. "(The coaches) have been such a huge help to me and my teammates, and it's helped us grow together as team — we're like a family here at East."
While Palau is close to most of his teammates, none are perhaps as close as fellow Cougar commit Taliauli. The two of them have been best friends since kindergarten, dreaming for as long as they can remember about playing one day for BYU.
Taliauli was the first to receive an offer, with Palau happy for his friend.
"I was just happy for him and not really thinking whether I'd get an offer from BYU or not," said Palau. "I've just been confident the whole time that things will always work out for the best as long as I keep working. Even if BYU never offered, that wouldn't change the way I felt about Meti being able to fulfill his dream of playing for BYU."
Taliauli will compete at nose tackle starting with spring ball in 2013.
"Meti is a beast," said Matich. "Of all my players, he's put in as much work in the classroom as anyone. He'll graduate early and enroll at BYU for spring semester because of all his hard work and dedication. He has a high GPA and it's been a big pleasure for me to coach him."
Palau's own offer came shortly after meeting one of his heroes while at BYU's camp.
"I was just out there working as hard as I could when former Cougar Fui Vakapuna showed up behind me and told me how he loved how hard I worked and how hard I ran," said Palau. "That meant so much to me because Fui was someone I grew up watching when he was at East and then at BYU and the type of player I want to be like."
Following camp, Palau received an official offer from BYU, which he immediately accepted. He'll join the team after completing a planned LDS Church mission, which he'll leave for after graduating from high school.
"It really is a dream come true for me and it's sort of like going from the great family I have at East to another family at BYU. It's that sort of feeling when you're down there with the team," said Palau. "I'll get to play with Meti at a place with the best coaches and the best environment I could hope for. I just hope I can be as good as Fui (Vakapuna)"
According to Matich, no player he has coached has been as deserving of a scholarship offer.
"Patrick (Palau) is simply the most outstanding human being I've ever coached," said Matich. "With what he's been through, his dedication to his family, his teammates and everything that is important in his life, BYU is getting an incredible young man. He's a leader on our team and as deserving as anyone I could imagine of getting an offer from BYU, and he'll be nothing but a success for them there."