UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo won't feel like a visitor when he plays in Salt Lake City Thursday

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

LOS ANGELES — Xavier Su’a-Filo may look like a visitor when he runs into Rice-Eccles Thursday night in Bruin blue and gold, but the Pleasant Grove native couldn’t feel more comfortable on the Utes’ home field.

The field where the Utes will battle UCLA Thursday night also happens to be the scene of one of his favorite football memories.

In his senior season, Su'a-Filo helped Timpview High earn its third straight 4A state championship by blocking a punt that led to the game-tying touchdown. The T-birds went on to win a thriller, 34-28, over Cottonwood on the same field where Su’a-Filo will line up at left guard for the Bruins against the Utes.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said of Thursday’s game. “I will have a lot of family come to watch me, and I get to see the mountains again.”

Now a junior starting at left guard for the Bruins, Su’a-Filo, who was one of the most sought-after prep football recruits in the country, earning accolades and awards locally and nationally, said he could have easily been dressed in red (or BYU blue) were it not for an almost impossible to articulate feeling he had about playing at UCLA.

“I just felt like it was the right place for me,” he said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News on Monday. “I prayed a lot about it. I looked at the pros and cons, and I got a good feeling that I should go there. I don’t know 100 percent why. It was just the place I was supposed to be.”

Su’a-Filo was offered scholarships by dozens of schools, but the ones he was most serious about were LSU, BYU, Utah, USC and UCLA.

“Coach Whittingham is an awesome guy, very classy,” said Su’a-Filo of being recruited by Utah. “They were definitely in the race.”

He didn't announce his decision until national signing day, and not everyone understood his choice.

“When he first told us UCLA, my initial reaction was, ‘I’d rather you stay here and go to BYU or Utah,’ ” said his father, Ifi Su’a-Filo, who played at Ricks College. “For some reason, we felt really good about it. We knew he put a lot of thought and prayer into the decision. We really wanted him to decide because we didn’t want to influence him, have him go some place we wanted, and then have him be unhappy.”

Ifi Su’a-Filo has seen that happen with other players, and it never ended well. Xavier’s passion is football, and his talent and drive have always made him a special player. So in choosing a college, the Su’a-Filos knew he had to find the place he felt would help him on his journey to try and play in the NFL some day.

UCLA did not look like that kind of place in 2008.

Consider what both BYU and Utah were accomplishing that fall as he contemplated his football future. The Cougars had beaten the Bruins 59-0 in Provo and the Utes finished their second perfect season in four years and a shocking upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The Bruins, however, finished 4-8 with a loss to USC.

Su’a-Filo explained to his parents that the choice was really more a matter of what he felt than what he could explain. And they understood.

His father felt that if he was destined for the NFL, any of the schools in his top five would help him get there.

“It was more of a strong impression that it was the right situation for him,” said Ifi. “And it really has been the right situation for him. He wanted to go on a mission, and it was important for him to go to a place where he could get on the field right away and show people he could play. … And that community has really embraced him. They love him."

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