High school football: Faith has helped Leopards' linebacker overcome terrible adversity in his life

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2012 8:32 p.m. MDT

Patrick Palau poses for a photo in his front yard as he spends some time with family Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. Patrick has signed to play for BYU when he returns from an LDS Mission.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Patrick Palau wanted to ask the man who was supposed to love him most why he was hurting him so severely.

The chubby but athletic 11-year-old didn't understand why the father he'd just met at his mother's funeral would want to yank him from the only home he'd ever known.

But the child didn't have the words.

And the man didn't seem to care.

"I was afraid," Patrick said softly. "I was terrified."

While Patrick worked in vain to please his father, his grandparents and uncles worked to find him. The child was not aware of their desperate battle, but in those worst moments, he said he felt their love. It was the memories of their voices, of his mother's voice, that he clung to in his darkest hours.

"It wasn't like it clicked," said the East High linebacker, while casting his eyes to the ground and admitting this is not something he's ever talked about. "It was not like father and son. It just wasn't there for me and him."

His father, who'd divorced Patrick's mom when he was a toddler, apparently thought he could create that relationship with a most sinister method — take him from the family who'd raised him, isolate him and earn his respect by hitting him.

"After my mom passed away, I was taken from everything I knew," said Patrick of his mother's death in April 2005. "My dad just beat me up; he didn't know what I was going through at the time. … I just wanted to be back with my (family). … I wanted to ask him, 'Why would you do this to me after I lost my mom?' "

But he did not ask the man who hurt him.

Instead, Patrick turned to the man his mother taught him would ease his burdens, no matter how painful.

"Heavenly Father," he said, blushing with uncertainty and embarrassment at sharing so many personal feelings with a stranger. "I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but … I was raised in the (LDS) church. I always acknowledge the Lord first. He's the one who blesses me with the things I've got, who has helped me through a lot, through thick and thin."

The prayers of that child, and the family that now raises him, were answered when, after three agonizing months, in late-summer of 2005, an uncle saw Patrick in Oregon and contacted police.

Patrick said the custody fight concluded a few months later, just west of East High, where he now spends his days working to create a future for himself and a legacy for his mother.

The burly linebacker, now 18, doesn't often talk about his past or his pain. He just tries to enjoy the blessings of his life. The strong young man's gentle ways and friendly demeanor almost mock his ferocity on the football field.

A three-year starter and two-time captain of the East High football team, Patrick beams when he talks about begging his mother to sign him up for football when he was just 8 years old.

"I like it because of the contact," he said with the slightest playfulness. "But it's not just a game of football; it's a game of life. I've learned from football. It gets my anger out there on the field. Instead of turning it on other people, I just put it on the field."

But even before he experienced more pain and betrayal than some adults ever know, he played with the kind of intensity and focus that impressed anyone who watched.

"I always knew, even (in) little league, the way he conducted himself, I knew he would be an outstanding player and person," said Kimi Palau, the youngest of Patrick's mother's four brothers. "There is no doubt, he is special."

Patrick said growing up the only son of Lavinia and Salesi Manu Palau's only daughter, Viola Palau, was too wonderful to describe.

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