PROVO — The two brothers trained for countless hours together in the sweltering heat last summer — with seemingly different motivations.
Harvey Unga was preparing for another football season. His younger brother, Victor, was preparing for an LDS Church mission.
But in reality, because the Unga brothers are so close, the purpose and the motivation were one and the same.
While Harvey (a star running back who rushed for 97 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown last Saturday in a loss to Florida State) was trying to get healthy after an injury-riddled 2008 campaign, Victor, a walk-on defensive lineman for the Cougars last year (he was officially listed at 5-foot-11, 366 pounds), was mandated by church officials to shed a lot of weight in order to qualify for missionary service.
Victor redshirted last season but practiced with the team and cheered on his brother. During the offseason, Harvey was one of Victor's biggest supporters and essentially became Victor's trainer.
"We'd go to Timpview (High School) and work out over there. We ran sprints, did ladders, did a couple of drills, pushed the sleds back and forth," Harvey recalled. "I had my little gig going on where I'd do my thing and he had his. We did it every single day, without fail. He was always out there running, busting his butt. It's funny, a lot of the time, we'd train in the mid-day, when it was the hottest. I wanted him to sweat a lot."
The road to slimming down was a difficult one, and not just physically. Last winter, Victor was told that he would have to lose 20 pounds to serve a mission. So he did it.
"Then I received a letter telling me I needed to lose another 35 pounds," Victor said. "I started to question things. I wondered why. I started thinking about staying and playing football this season. That's when I talked to Harvey. He told me he would support me no matter what. Then he told me, 'This is probably part of your mission, testing your faith. The biggest regret for me is not going on a mission. If I could, I would go back and do it in a heartbeat. That would mean more to me than all of the hype and glory of football.' "
With Harvey's help, Victor altered his diet and continued the workout regimen until he ultimately lost about 40 pounds — tipping the scales at about 305 — and he was able to submit his mission paperwork. He received his mission call last week, to Honolulu, Hawaii. Victor enters the Missionary Training Center on Dec. 9.
Harvey's reaction to Victor's mission call?
"I was a little flustered when I heard that," Harvey said, grinning. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, Hawaii? He's going on a vacation.' I asked him if he was going to keep the weight off now that he's going to Hawaii. He's planning on it. We'll see."
Seriously, though, Harvey knows how much Victor went through to be able to serve a mission.
"It was awesome because he worked so hard to lose the weight," he said. "It was frustrating for him. He was ready to go a long time ago, back in January. It's frustrating to anyone who wants to serve a mission. He worked very hard. I'm very proud of him and excited for him. It paid off. It was fun."
Along the way, Victor faced plenty of self-doubt. But he wanted to serve a mission more than anything.
"That was his motivation. There were times when I could see he was frustrated," Harvey said. "He got to the point where he told me, 'Man, I don't know if I'm going to lose this weight.' He felt like he had plateaued after he lost about 20 pounds. It was hard to lose the other 20. There were times when he was a little down, but at the same time, he said, 'I can't give up. I've got to keep going.' He's a hard-working kid. He's a guy that doesn't give up."
Victor said Harvey has taught him to believe in himself and what he can accomplish.
"Everyone has their time when they shine," Victor said. "Harvey's always been faster than me, stronger than me, smarter than me. He tells me, 'This is one thing, a mission, where you can beat me. And this is the most important thing I can think of so far. You got me on this one.' "
As Victor leaves to serve a mission in Hawaii, he knows a piece of Harvey will go with him.
"People ask me all the time, 'What's it like to be Harvey's brother?' It's neat, but to me, he's just Harvey. He still has to wash dishes at the end of the day," Victor said. "He's busy and he has a lot of things on his mind and a lot of things to do. I'm just happy my brother was willing to help me out. It means a lot to me. It was a long process but well worth it."
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