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Ex-Cougar Ofahengaue says Mr. Irrelevant is still his story

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 8:40 p.m. MDT

BYU's Tevita Ofahengaue hauls in a pass in front of Florida State's Derrick Gidson (6) and Jean Jeune (32) to set BYU for a field goal to get on the board as they battle Florida State Saturday, August 26, 2000. Photo by Jason Olson

JASON OLSON,

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SALT LAKE CITY — Tevita Ofahengaue wanted to know, first off, if I had Internet access.

“Google the Ofahengaue Rule,” he said on Tuesday. “Go ahead. Look it up.”

The caller from the “Mr. Irrelevant” committee had told him in 2001 to bring his family to celebrate being last of 246 players in the NFL Draft. So he brought all 62 of them to Newport Beach, pets not included. They occupied much of two floors of the hotel and plenty of airplane seats.

“Limousine service, rooms, food, plane tickets, keys to the city, it was a good deal,” Ofahengaue said.

So good, in fact, that the next year the Ofahengaue Rule was instituted: one guest only.

When the 2013 draft commences on Thursday — and when it concludes — Ofahengaue will be watching with more than passing interest. The first pick will be intriguing. But the last pick? Booyah!

“The name is catchy, but the meaning is not really irrelevant,” Ofahengaue said. “Trust me, whoever is Mr. Relevant, or whoever is the guy who is (picked) before me — we all got the same signing bonuses. But my wife got diamond earrings and a necklace worth $10,000 and I got a down (payment) on a Suburban.”

Framed art, electronic equipment, computers …

“Nonstop gifts,” he said. “A room full of stuff. A lot of people would be against being [Mr. Irrelevant], they say you don’t want to be embarrassed, but if they know my background, and how far I’ve come …”

From teenage dad to college football star to NFL draft pick.

“This whole Mr. Irrelevant thing, it’s on my (Twitter) hashtags, Facebook, my signature is Mr. Irrelevant,” he said. “I sat out doing nothing for five years. I walked on at BYU. My whole story is irrelevant.”

Yet in another sense, it’s as relevant as they come.

* * *

When the Arizona Cardinals did call, he thought it was a joke. Ofahengaue, who by then had four kids, had watched until the seventh round, without hearing his name. Finally he shut off the TV.

Teams had tantalized him, saying his name would come up, but mostly they were keeping him on the hook as a potential free agent.

A friend from Arizona had phoned earlier in the day, pretending to be a Cardinals executive. So when the call really did come, Ofahengaue laughed and rolled his eyes.

Who wouldn’t be skeptical? In 1991 he was a 16-year-old father in Hawaii, with no plans to attend college. The next year he moved to Dallas and took a job working as an airline baggage handler. Had fate not intervened, he might still be there.

Five years after high school he had flown back to Hawaii and run into Itula Mili, the BYU tight end who was a high school teammate. Mili told him he should walk on at BYU and play the position, though he had been a defensive player in high school.

Mili began whispering in the ear of BYU assistant coach Norm Chow that he had a successor picked out, an ex-teammate from Hawaii. Soon Ofahengaue was on the team. That alone was bigger than he had imagined. His mother had begged him to attend college, but he hadn’t considered it until Mili intervened. He was awarded a scholarship for his sophomore season.

“That was the irrelevant part,” he said. “I just wanted to wear a uniform, just run out and see 65,000 people go aaaaaah! My first goal was just to wear a uniform and make my family proud, just have my name on a jersey, even if I didn’t play.”

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