PROVO — Linebacker Uona Kaveinga has had a relatively short career at BYU, but he's made the most of it.
Kaveinga is one of 24 seniors that will be honored Saturday (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPNU) in their final game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where the Cougars host Idaho.
Each player has his own unique story, of course, and Kaveinga certainly traveled an unusual road.
The highly recruited former prep All-American originally turned down a scholarship at BYU in favor of the University of Southern California. Then, after spending a couple years with the Trojans, Kaveinga experienced a change of heart and transferred to BYU, where he's started at middle linebacker the past two seasons.
"It's been worth it, 100 percent," he said this week of his decision to become a Cougar. "I don't regret it at all. If anything, I regret not coming here from the get-go. But everything happens in life for a reason. My time spent here, I've grown as a person and learned a lot about life. Overall, my experience here, I couldn't ask for anything else.
"My experience has been great here. It's a great environment and I've made a lot of life-long friends."
Prior to his junior year at BYU, after sitting out as per NCAA transfer rules, Kaveinga told the Deseret News that his decision to go to USC was "an immature choice."
A Hawthorne, Calif., native, Kaveinga chose to stay close to home, picking the glamorous Trojans. During his two years at USC, he learned from linebackers coach, and former NFL star, Ken Norton, Jr., and then-head coach Pete Carroll.
But something kept gnawing at Kaveinga. He couldn't shake the feeling he had on his recruiting trip to Provo while he was in high school — that he belonged to BYU.
"It's a special place and I'm so grateful for this university and especially coach (Bronco) Mendenhall," he said. "I'm grateful for him letting me transfer to BYU and giving me the opportunity to play at BYU."
This season, Kaveinga has been a key contributor to the BYU defense, which is considered one of the best in school history. The 5-foot-11, 233-pounder has recorded 35 tackles, including four tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Because Kaveinga came to BYU because it had more to offer than football, he never envisioned playing for a top-flight defense in Provo.
"I knew that coach Mendenhall, my first observation about his program, was how hard his players work," he said. "I adapted to it. I accept the philosophy and I invested all my time and energy to the program. I can say with confidence that we have a lot of talent and coach Mendenhall has kept us grounded and humbled and made us work for everything we've earned. Nothing has come easy."
Making the transition from USC to BYU wasn't easy, either.
"Football-wise, it was fine," he said. "Everything else, yes, it was tough — academics, the environment, the people you're around. Different kind of teammates. It's a black-and-white difference."
Kaveinga credits Mendenhall, inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell and fellow linebacker Brandon Ogletree, among others, for helping him with his adjustment to BYU.
"They've helped me through a lot," Kaveinga said.
Though his collegiate career is drawing to a close, he's not thinking much about that. Instead, Kaveinga is eager to turn in another solid effort at home, against Idaho.3 comments on this story
"It's going to be an emotional game," he said. "But you don't want to forget that the most important thing is playing the game. You don't want to get too emotional and invest too much time and energy thinking about that, about it being your last home game."
Besides, after playing the Vandals, Kaveinga still has three more games left as a Cougar, and he said there's still plenty to play for this season.
"We want to be the best we can be," he said. "Nobody on this team wants to leave any stone unturned. We want to do the best we can do. We can still play better on defense. It has to hit you deep inside to get better every week. We're hungry and we want to get better every week."