When the Ute offense takes the field this fall, fans’ attention will be drawn to the players who reel off the big runs, account for the long pass plays and put points on the scoreboard. But football scholars know it all starts with the play of the offensive line, and the heart of that group this season is senior center Tevita Stevens.
Stevens, a Hemet, Calif., native, is the middle child in a family of five boys. Playing sports, especially football, were highly encouraged by his parents, Ron and Telekaki Stevens, while he was growing up.
“My family has always been supportive of me playing sports,” Stevens said. “My parents fly up to see me play every week, and now that my younger brother plays at Oregon they try to see both of us play. It has really helped me and my brothers to have such supportive parents and family members.”
Unlike most children who learn to play sports in organized leagues, Stevens and his siblings learned from each other. The older brothers were the leaders, setting an example for the younger ones to follow.
“In California, they have weight classes for the recreation leagues and we were always too big. So, I only played backyard and flag football with my brothers until I reached high school,” Stevens said.
But playing football wasn't all Stevens did with his brothers.
“Growing up in a house with all boys, we would get really rough,” he said. “We would always be outside wrestling or playing football. I would go watch my older brothers’ football practices and even became the team water boy.”
When Stevens was in elementary school, the examples of his older brother and his father, a school teacher, paved the way for his future.
“When I was in fourth grade, I remember watching my brother Chris play high school football and make big plays as running back,” Stevens said. “He worked very hard on and off the field. Then I saw him get scholarship offers from various colleges and eventually play at BYU. That’s when I decided I wanted to get a football scholarship, just like him.”
An assignment from his fourth grade teacher, Linda Campbell, also helped clarify Stevens’ future plans.
“As a kid in elementary school, my main focus was having fun with my friends. I did not expect an ordinary class assignment to have a large impact on my life,” Stevens said. “Ms. Campbell gave one assignment where we were to write out our personal goals for the next 10 years, and then she had us write down how we were to achieve those goals. I, of course, put down that I wanted to have a date for prom and such; but I also put down a plan to achieve my goals of playing college football and even becoming a school teacher. I used my brother’s example and planned to follow in his footsteps. It was amazing that I had a teacher who took the time to do that, and she even checked up on our goals and returned our papers to us years later at our high school graduation.”
Once Stevens reached high school, he was able to play organized full-contact football for the first time. He excelled in several sports, setting multiple records and earning awards in football, wrestling and track & field. However, his play on the gridiron gained the most notoriety and put him on the path to achieve his goal of playing college football.
Stevens received several Division I scholarship offers during his senior year and ultimately decided to sign with the University of Texas El-Paso.
Following his high school graduation, Stevens elected to put his academic pursuits on hold and serve a two-year LDS church mission to New York City. At the conclusion of his service, Stevens decided to decommit from UTEP and sign with the University of Utah.
“After serving my mission, I really wanted to be closer to a place that shares more of my religious views, so it came down to Utah and BYU,” Stevens said. “I thought about those two schools for a while and decided that Utah was a better fit for me. The coaches here are great and gave me a chance to come in and play right away.”
Following a redshirt season in 2008, Stevens competed for the starting guard position in 2009. Halfway through the season, Stevens claimed the full-time starting job and played next to four future NFL players in Zane Beadles, Zane Taylor, Caleb Schlauderaff and Tony Bergstrom.
“All four of those players carried similar traits that I have tried to apply to my own game,” Stevens said. “They would pay attention to details and the small things. Playing next to them, I felt the high demands from them and it elevated me to be a better player. Now I hope that I can pass on some of those traits to the younger guys this year.”
Entering his junior season, Stevens was not only tasked with helping Utah transition smoothly to the Pac-12 Conference, but the coaches also moved him from guard to center.
“Surprisingly, the transition was not too bad,” he said. “I think it was good that I started at guard for a few years and got the hang of things. Being the center, you have to know more and make adjustments to the blocking assignments. As a freshman, that would have been really difficult; but after learning from the great example of Zane Taylor for two years, it made the transition easier.”
In his final season, Stevens is committed to helping the Utes make it to the Pac-12 Conference Championship game.
“Last year we fell a bit short of our goal,” Stevens said. “This year my plan is to work hard and help the team achieve its goal of a Pac-12 Conference championship.”
While Stevens has talents on the football field, he also has talents that go beyond there. Stevens is a three-time academic all-conference honoree who is on track to finish his degree in Spanish this fall.
“I am grateful that God has given me such a blessing to have college paid for with an athletic scholarship and to have such a supportive family,” Stevens said. “I love football and want to take it as far as I can, but I know that there are more important things in life than playing football. Once I am done playing I would like to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Spanish teacher.”
Stevens’ own words paint the most accurate portrayal of him. He is a humble individual who personifies the true meaning of the word ‘student-athlete.’
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company