It just felt right. You learn on your mission to follow the spirit and do the things that God wants you to do. So I felt strongly that BYU is where I needed to be after the visit, so that's why I made the decision. —Christian Folau
SALT LAKE CITY — BYU wasn't even in the picture when Christian Folau signed his National Letter of Intent with Oregon State prior to his two-year LDS Church mission service. But some coaching changes within the program, among several other factors, put the Cougar program squarely in the East High product's sights upon his return.
Folau announced his intention to transfer to BYU on Tuesday, about a week after arriving home from his mission to San Jose, California. He did as much after taking a visit to meet with coaches and to tour the campus and the facilities.
"It just felt right," Folau said. "You learn on your mission to follow the spirit and do the things that God wants you to do. So I felt strongly that BYU is where I needed to be after the visit, so that's why I made the decision."
Folau contacted BYU shortly upon returning home — calling defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki to hopefully arrange a visit to the program and to the campus.
Prior to contacting Tuiaki, Folau's contact with BYU had been limited. While being recruited as a 4-star prospect out of East High School, BYU showed interest initially but backed off considerably after the 6-foot-1, 240-pound prospect committed to Stanford early.
“I just remember going to one camp, but as soon as I committed to Stanford, that was pretty much it, and BYU never was really in the picture, although Kalani (Sitake) kept recruiting me heavily throughout," Folau said.
Sitake's continued contact paid dividends after Folau's Stanford commitment fell through somewhat late in the process. He then switched his commitment and signed with Oregon State, where Sitake was serving as defensive coordinator at the time — narrowly choosing the Beavers over an offer from Utah.
While on his mission Folau learned of Sitake taking the BYU head coaching job, yet didn't reach out to the Cougar program as a result, nor had Sitake or any other coach on staff reached out to him. Others did reach out, however.
"I met a lot of members on my mission who went to BYU, and even my mission president, they told me about the environment and the academics," Folau said. "I was all about environment and academics, having first committed to Stanford, so hearing that stuff — that was the biggest thing for me.”
What Folau heard from his mission president and all those members was confirmed upon his visit.
“I was just amazed by the Marriott School (of Business) and all the different types of possibilities they have for players,” Folau said. “But that’s why I respect Kalani so much. He first talked about family and school and really nothing about football.”
While missionary work involves no football activities directly, Folau didn't step completely away from the sport. While thinking of ways to enhance his missionary work, he decided to use the sport he excels at as a means.
“You’re around it, serving state-side, but I actually used that to my advantage,” Folau said. “Through my love of football I was able to reach out to help a lot of youth who couldn’t afford camps. I was able to invite a lot of members and non-members to just come out and enjoy the sport. It was great finding activity.”
“Why I love football is to help those around me and I’m just very passionate about young men becoming the men that God needs them to be,” Folau continued. “So being able to do that on my mission was a huge blessing and something that really fit and helped with the missionary work I was able to do.”
While on his mission Folau heard from former East teammates Ula Tolutau and Joe Tukuafu, who both transferred to BYU after their respective missions. He stated both have influenced his ultimate decision to transfer himself.
“It definitely played a factor,” Folau said. “It’s great playing with people who know how you work and do things. But also they’re great friends. Ula and Joe have been encouraging throughout my mission, but didn’t really push me to join them at BYU, so much as just encourage me to focus on what I was there for.”
Although Folau will be about just a month removed from mission service when fall camp begins, he aims working to compete immediately.
“(Sitake) wants me to play and wants to see where my fitness level is,” Folau said. “But he also wants me to be careful with the transition and not to take things too far. So I’m excited to compete with a great linebacker corps BYU has right now and to learn from guys like Francis Bernard, Fred Warner and all those guys.”
Where exactly Folau will fit in best is yet to be determined, as well.
“Playing middle backer has always been my dream, but if playing outside will give me a starting position, then I’ll be willing to play there, or anywhere else,” Folau said. “I’m just excited to play in the program and to help out the best I can.”