Excerpt from 'Cougar Converts': The LDS conversion of Sete Aulai
Jason Olson, Deseret News
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the book "Cougar Converts: Life-Changing Stories from BYU Athletics," by Talo Steves, Jedd Parkinson and Matt Hodge, published by Totalbluesports.com.
Originally from the small village of Vailoa on the island of Savai'i, Samoa, Sete Aulai grew up in a Christian home in Carson, Calif. Located on the southwest border of Compton in Los Angeles County, Carson had its share of problems with gangs, drugs and violence. Growing up in the area shaped Aulai, and like the streets of Carson, he became tough. That toughness, along with exceptional physical strength, made Aulai a natural football player.
By the time he reached high school, Aulai was performing well on the football field and in the classroom, garnering numerous accolades in the process. Coaches from the top football programs on the West Coast were soon aware of the young offensive lineman. The recruiting attention increased as Aulai approached his senior season.
“I went to Carson High and I started two years on varsity,” Aulai recalled. “In my junior year, I made second-team All-Area and first-team All-Marine League. I got invited to the USC camp, the UCLA camp and the Nike camp. My senior year, I made first-team All-Area, first-team All-League and I made the All-Regional Team. I made Scholar Athlete with a 3.1 (GPA) and the National Honor Roll. I’m not the smartest kid in the world but I try.”
However, despite his success in the classroom and on the field, Aulai never received a coveted scholarship offer from the Pac-10 schools that were courting him at the time. “I got letters from everybody, but nobody offered,” Aulai said. “I got letters from just about everyone from the Pac-10 like SC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State, but nobody offered.”
Undeterred by the lack of a Division I scholarship, Aulai was determined to continue his football career at the next level. Rather than walk on at a Division I school, he opted to go the junior college route, signing with El Camino College in neighboring Torrance, Calif.
Soon after strapping on the pads for the El Camino Warriors, the big offensive guard began to build an impressive football resume that once again attracted the attention of Division I coaches.
“My freshman year at El Camino, I played all 11 games and made Honorable Mention All-Conference,” said Aulai. “It’s the toughest conference in the U.S. Trust me. Going into my sophomore year I was voted Preseason All-American. At the end of the season I made first-team All-Mission Conference, first-team All-State, second-team All-American.”
Aulai also received El Camino’s Helmet Award, given to the team’s top offensive lineman each season. While he started at guard for El Camino, Aulai also played some fullback, a testament to his exceptionally quick feet. He capped off his numerous awards by being named a Junior College Athletic Bureau first-team All-American.
As the scholarship offers began to roll in during his sophomore season at El Camino, Aulai knew he had an important choice to make. Brigham Young University was one of many schools that had offered him a scholarship, but he didn’t know a lot about the BYU football program or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which sponsored the school. He decided to learn more and scheduled an official recruiting visit in late January of 2005 to see things firsthand.
The visit to Provo went far better than he ever expected. “I tripped out here to visit this past weekend and I just loved it,” Aulai said in an interview with Total Blue Sports the weekend after his visit. “It was nothing like I imagined. I loved it up there! It was like nothing else and nothing like from where I’m from.”
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