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Utah Utes football: LDS institute building helps Utes lure Texas star Gaius Vaenuku to program

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 5:50 a.m. MDT

EULESS, Texas — Sometimes it takes just one specific thing to tip the scales for a particular football program in a recruiting battle. Fortunately for Utah, it had just the right thing to lure a key prospect to its program over TCU.

Gaius Vaenuku announced his commitment to Utah late Sunday night, picking the Utes over programs such as TCU, Texas Tech and BYU. Vaenuku is a 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive line prospect who had multiple BCS offers, but, in the end, narrowed his choices down to Utah and TCU.

Utah was the school the Euless Trinity standout had atop his list throughout until TCU coach Gary Patterson and his staff made a late run at him.

“I love TCU and it was very tough to tell them no, but Utah just won out and I’m very excited to be a Ute,” Vaenuku said. “I always liked Utah, but TCU made it very tough on me to decide. I pretty much liked everything at TCU as much as I liked the same things at Utah.”

Utah did have an ace up its sleeve, however, which came to light during Vaenuku’s official visit. While being wowed by the facilities, coaches and activities, it was one particular building on campus that tipped the scales in Utah’s favor.

“I love the (LDS) institute building there. That thing is huge and is going to really help me prepare well for my mission,” he said. “Playing football isn’t the most important thing for me right now — serving a mission is and Utah has a great environment to help me prepare for that. Honestly, if TCU had that same institute building and all it had to offer then I probably would have committed there.”

His membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did attract Vaenuku to BYU, but he said he felt more at home at Utah.

“I liked BYU and felt good there, but not like how I felt being at Utah,” he said. “Utah just felt more like it was home and the place I needed to be more than BYU did.”

Vaenuku plans to play a year before leaving for his planned mission service and will join with fellow Euless Trinity standouts Sam Tevi and Salesi Uhatafe in competing for immediate playing time. Tevi is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound 3-star athlete who had multiple Pac-12 and Big-12 offers at the time of his commitment. Uhatafe is a 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive line prospect who was also offered by Arizona.

“I’m very good friends with both Sam and Salesi and I wouldn’t be the player I am today without having the opportunity to go up against Salesi,” Vaenuku said. “I would have committed to Utah even if they weren’t going there, but it definitely makes it better that they will be.”

The Utes are in immediate need of defensive line help after losing Star Lotulelei along with David and Joe Kruger — among others. The late commitment of Vaenuku could ease their losses along with the commit of JUCO defensive lineman Sese Ianu (6-3, 300) from Golden West College.

“They want me to play defensive end, but I may play defensive tackle and I’m fine with that,” Vaenuku said. “I love the defensive coaches there and I know that Utah has a great tradition of developing defensive linemen and preparing them for the NFL. I couldn’t be more happy that I’m going to be a Ute.”

Email: bgurney@desnews.com Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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