Dick Harmon: BYU football program increases efforts to recruit Polynesians

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Ex-Cougar Gabriel Reid (42), here in action in 2002, says BYU is doing more to pursue Polynesian players now.

Jason Olson

Enlarge photo»

Editor's Note: This concludes a two-part series of commentaries looking at BYU's increased recruiting strategy among Polynesian communities.

Growing up in Samoa, Gabriel Reid was a decent football player and a member of the LDS faith. It was expected in Samoa that any player with talent who was a Mormon would play football at BYU.

"That's just the way it was back then," said Reid, who played for the Cougars from 2000-02 and the Chicago Bears from 2003-06. His brother Spencer also played for BYU.

Today, it appears BYU's football staff is trying take advantage of that interest by Polynesian families and their ties to the church. Many big and small college football programs have tapped into Polynesian athletic talent over the decades.

University of Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who committed to BYU out of Bingham High, is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

Recruiting Polynesia? Local talent?

Nobody does it better than Utah and BYU.

It appears BYU is working hard to use its advantages and shift more attention to how it manages and approaches players of Polynesian descent.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall recently dispatched offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to Samoa for a goodwill tour.

"They rolled out the red carpet for him," said Reid.

For BYU and Utah, recruiting South Pacific bloodlines has paid off big time and is a mainstay of their respective football programs. Of Utah's seven commitments for 2013 so far, it appears six recruits pledged are of Polynesian decent. Of BYU's 19, eight fall into this ethnic group.

For Mendenhall, recruiting the Polynesian community should be like fishing in a barrel because of the LDS tradition among two and three generations of immigrants.

If BYU fails to cultivate, manage and reap the benefits, it is a major failure.

Census records show in 1990 there were 3,904 Tongans in Utah. That number doubled to 8,665 in 2000. The next decade the Tongan numbers in the state increased by 52 percent to 13,235. While Samoan migration to Utah started much slower, it has caught up and an equal number from that country now reside in Utah.

Most Tongans and Samoans who moved to Utah did so because of the LDS faith. Both countries have LDS high schools and the church recently closed a similar campus in Hamilton, New Zealand. Combine that with popular BYU-Hawaii, and the church educational system has proved a major part of the lives of LDS faithful in the South Pacific.

It has been reported that 46 percent of the Kingdom of Tonga is LDS. There is a higher per capita of LDS in Tonga than any country in the world.

This past month, Mendenhall invited LDS leaders of Utah's Polynesian stakes to meet with him. "He reached out to stake presidents and other ecclesiastical leaders who were Polynesian. He explained his vision and how much he needs their help in making sure those who are interested in what BYU has to offer, has that opportunity. He explained the standards, academic policies," said Reid, a member of the Provo Wasatch Tongan Stake high council.

"It takes a village to raise a child," said Reid. "Mendenhall said if he has a football player who is struggling, he wants to reach out to their stake president, who can make some phone calls in the community to rally and help. This was a great move by Bronco."

There are three Tongan LDS stakes in Utah. The Provo Wasatch Tongan Stake stretches from Lehi to Santaquin in Utah County. It includes eight wards and two branches, and four of the units are Samoan.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere