Vai's View: From one BYU football alum to another, advice on faith, family, career

Published: Thursday, June 26 2014 9:20 p.m. MDT

BYU's David Tafuna brings down New Mexico's Roland Bruno in a 2008 contest.

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Last weekend, I flew to Chicago for my cousin David Tafuna's graduation from Northwestern's prestigious Kellogg School of Management with his MBA. I wrote of David's acceptance to Kellogg two years ago after he lived and worked in the Philadelphia area for a few years with his young family.

After an internship with Credit Suisse on Wall Street last summer, David accepted an offer from Bank of America in their mergers and acquisitions division. He'll spend July and August training in Manhattan before beginning his investment banking career at their Palo Alto, California, headquarters.

Since childhood, David aspired to follow my football career to BYU and then into the NFL. David's mother, Marguerite, is the youngest girl and my mother the eldest of 10 children, so I'm significantly older. David's family lived a few miles from mine in Mesa, Arizona, though he was born while I was already at BYU. He followed my path to Mesa High School where he also starred, then served a Mormon mission before heading to Provo.

David wore my same No. 23 jersey as he started two years as the Cougars' free safety from 2007-2008. His bigger-than-life mural still occupies a wall on the second floor of the Student Athlete Center in Provo.

Our connection is even closer by marriage — his marriage. David was introduced to his wife, Melissa, by my oldest son, Landon, on a blind date at BYU. As David returned from his mission to Brazil in 2004, I asked him if he would room with Landon in Deseret Towers for a semester of Landon's freshman year so he could influence my son positively.

Landon asked out Melissa Rebilas for a double date that semester because they grew up together in our home ward in New Jersey. David wasn't much interested in his date, but he was smitten by Melissa. It didn't bother Landon at all. Melissa is like a sister. They've been friends since CTR Primary class and grade school. Besides, Landon was preparing for his mission.

I was bishop of the ward when Melissa was in the youth program, and I conducted her ecclesiastic interview for her BYU application. Even as a teenager, Melissa was strikingly beautiful, athletic (basketball, soccer and field hockey) and smart.

So imagine my joy when my younger, beloved, BYU standout cousin married a young woman from my ward whose parents are dear, close friends!

After graduation, the NFL didn't beckon. David had multiple shoulder surgeries, and the truth (which I told David) is that he didn't have the foot speed to play safety in the track meet that is the National Football League. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of people don't.

But lots of all-American college football players also don't graduate with a 3.4 grade-point average in finance. So, I encouraged him to pursue his life's work. That started with a move east, where I have connections. I could help him find work in his field and at the same time live with his in-laws so they could help Melissa with their first baby.

He landed a job with the Social Security Administration in Philly, then I got him on with a financial firm owned by a friend. That led to another job with Meryl Lynch. After three years of solid work experience, he was positioned to apply to the top business schools in the world — Wharton, Harvard, Columbia and Kellogg. He received enticing scholarship offers from BYU's Marriott School of Management and UCLA.

I repeated to David my mantra: "Go big or go home!"

His GPA, high scores, Division I athlete experience, mission experience overseas, language skills and gilded resume gave him lots of options. He chose Kellogg as the best fit for what he wanted.

True to form, David also had lots of options as he neared graduation.

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