Excerpt from 'Cougar Converts': The LDS conversion of Sete Aulai

By Talo Steves

By Jedd Parkinson

By Matt Hodge

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

The nickname and beard card added flavor and character to stories about the likeable Aulai, but his dominating play on the field would become his trademark and legacy at BYU. Aulai and his fellow offensive linemen blocked for an offense that averaged 466 yards a game in 2006, good for fourth in the country. BYU finished the season with an 11-2 record and a 38-8 Las Vegas Bowl victory over the University of Oregon. Aulai allowed only one sack on the season, an amazing accomplishment considering the Cougar quarterbacks attempted 448 passes in 2006.

At the outset of the 2007 season, Aulai was selected as a team captain by his teammates. He and his fellow offensive linemen continued their strong play as the Cougars produced another 11-2 record and again won the Las Vegas Bowl, defeating the UCLA Bruins 17-16. Aulai continued to develop and perform well on the field, but he was also going through some changes away from football.

After taking over as head coach, Bronco Mendenhall began a tradition of holding several team firesides each football season. During these firesides, a few players were chosen to speak to local LDS congregations in the cities where the team was playing. One such fireside was held in San Diego the week of the Cougars’ final 2007 regular season game against the San Diego State Aztecs. When Aulai got up and humbly spoke about his faith in Jesus Christ and his role as a disciple, many in the audience were surprised to learn that he was not a member of the LDS Church. In the preceding months, Aulai had experienced a spiritual awakening of sorts and the fireside talk was one of many steps he would take along a spiritual journey that would dramatically change his life.

Although he still wasn't a member of the LDS faith, Aulai attended a singles ward with a few of his teammates, viewing it as a social function rather than a spiritual one. Over time that began to change. “After that I kind of developed a small testimony and it just started to grow from there,” said Aulai. “I went to church with Ray (Feinga), Fui (Vakapuna) and Manase (Tonga), but it was more just to go to church. After going for a while with them, I really started to investigate the church. I was like, 'Alright, let’s see what the LDS faith is really about.' ”

At BYU, Aulai roomed with a Cougar walk-on defensive tackle from San Bernardino by the name of Mark Fitu, who wasn't on the team very long due to injury. Fitu invited him to attend the priesthood session of general conference in October 2007.

“It all started with President (Gordon B.) Hinckley,” Aulai recalled. "I went to his last priesthood session before he passed away. Mark was going and got me an extra ticket, and I really enjoyed that last priesthood session and will always remember that last talk he gave that day. The topic was anger, and I kid you not, I thought he was talking directly to me because I have a short temper. I'm pretty sure people remember that out on the football field." Soon, Aulai became more involved with the church, even as a non-member.

“Then, and this is kind of funny, I became a home teacher and I wasn't even a member of the church,” said Aulai with a laugh. "Can you believe that? I was in this single student ward at BYU, the 136th Ward. I was going there for a little bit and they asked me if I wanted to be a home teacher, and I was like, 'What the heck is a home teacher?' After they told me about it I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' So I was a home teacher for a little while, and after doing all that and going to church and doing everything that the church teaches, like read and pray and all that, something happened on July 12, 2008." That was the day that Aulai was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"My uncle Tupule Poloa, who was in the bishopric up here in Salt Lake City, is the one that baptized me,” said Aulai. “I didn't do it because of some girl or for my friends. I did it because I wanted to, and I'm not going to lie, there were so many people that attended my baptism. It was like a stake conference because that's how many people were there. There were so many players from the team that were there, all the coaches were there and even (athletic director) Tom Holmoe was there. All the people from my singles ward were there, and they had to open up the overflow for the gym up because there were so many people there.”

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