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Vai's View: Vai's View: A hard-working young man with a great opportunity

Published: Friday, July 20 2012 6:09 p.m. MDT

Earlier this week, I received an email from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, one of the top business schools in the country. In fact, it's one of the top schools on the planet — No. 16 according to the Global MBA Rankings of 2012, with just seven international programs ahead of it. Businessweek and US News & World Report rank Kellogg School of Management No. 4 in the United States.

Unfortunately, Kellogg wasn't inviting me to attend or lecture.

The school was reaching out on behalf of my cousin David Tafuna, who has been accepted in the incoming MBA class of 2014. David was the starting free safety at BYU in 2007 and '08. David listed me as an "assessor" to evaluate his leadership strengths and development needs. The survey is confidential and only David and his professors will be able to see my evaluation.

I was impressed that the email included these lines: "We recognize that people sometimes are reluctant to point out the shortcomings or weaknesses of others. Although you may be tempted to depict David in the best possible light, s/he will learn much more from your feedback if you are honest and candid in your responses. We consistently hear from students that favorable ratings are nice, but they find much more value in knowing about opportunities for improvement … and they find the text comments particularly enriching. Please keep this in mind as you complete the assessment."

They're right. That's gonna take some time for reflective thought because I've known David since he was a baby and I think the sun rises and sets on him.

Though I'm old enough to be his father or uncle, we're first cousins because our mothers are sisters — my mother the oldest and his the youngest girl in a family of 10. So David has always been more like a kid brother.

David was born in 1983, the year I returned from my mission, and as his parents lived a few miles from my home, we were very close and he grew up idolizing his oldest cousin. David's father, David Sr., was a student and played defensive end at Mesa Community College at the time, but the family would move to Honolulu when David Sr. earned a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii, where he graduated with his bachelor's and master's in sociology.

Following David Sr.'s graduation, he and my aunt, Marguerite, moved their family back to Arizona. At the same time, my NFL career brought me back to Arizona as well, so David Jr. and his siblings spent a lot of time in my home. I went to David's Pop Warner football games and even watched him play once against a future BYU teammate — John Beck.

David Jr. graduated and was recruited to BYU from Mesa High, just as I was. When he arrived at BYU, he requested my old number, 23. He served a mission as I did, but in Brazil. Following his mission, I asked David to room with my oldest son, Landon, who was just arriving at BYU as a freshman, thinking his influence would be good for Landon.

He and Landon are more like brothers and he continues to be a good influence on Landon and my other children. David married a girl, Melissa Rebilas, from my New Jersey ward, whose ecclesiastical interview for BYU I conducted as her bishop. They were introduced by Landon, who grew up with Melissa.

When his eligibility at BYU expired, David consulted with me on his options. He had aspired to play in the NFL all his life, but his prospects weren't great. Mine hadn't been either, but I didn't create for myself the options David had. He graduated in four years in finance with a 3.4 GPA. Melissa was pregnant with their first child and he considered coming east so his wife could be closer to her mother and family when the baby came but also because he wanted to seek employment opportunities in the East.

When he told me his ultimate goal was to gain enough work experience before applying to a top-notch business school for an MBA, I encouraged him to come east and go for it.

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