Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
After spending a couple of years at Southern California, junior linebacker Uona Kaveinga is glad to be at BYU.

PROVO — Looking back, BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga says, his choice to attend the University of Southern California out of high school was an "immature" one.

But he has no regrets.

As a prep All-America from Hawthorne, Calif., Kaveinga picked the glitzy, glamorous Trojans over the Cougars in 2008. Then, after spending a couple of years at USC, he decided to transfer to buttoned-down BYU.

"Being young, being from L.A. — I grew up in southern California my whole life — the success, the fame and the glory and all of the attention USC was getting, I just felt that I wanted to be there," recalled the 5-foot-11, 255-pound junior. "I can say now, being older — I'm 21 right now — I made the decision when I was 17.

"The more mature choice would have been to come here to BYU. I made an immature choice to go to USC. But I learned a lot about football there and kind of discovered myself and where I was supposed to be and where I fit in. It's an honor to be here at BYU."

After redshirting last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Kaveinga has quickly transformed into one of the standouts of the Cougar defense this spring.

"He's currently the leader on our defense," said head coach/defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall. "I've been really impressed with him."

On his recruiting visit to BYU, while he was in high school, Kaveinga said he remembers a "special feeling" he had on campus. He never forgot it, even during his two years at USC.

"BYU had more to offer besides football," he said. "Football at USC was going great. Besides that, it was so-so. BYU is a special place. I felt like I needed to be (at BYU) for the social life, the spiritual life."

At USC, Kaveinga was a reserve linebacker and played on special teams.

"The decision to transfer here was made by me," he said. "I'm humbled and blessed that coach Mendenhall gave me another opportunity to come here. At USC, things weren't what I expected."

Still, Kaveinga said his experience as a Trojan benefited him immensely, which means BYU's defense will benefit, too.

"There was just a competitive spirit there at USC, going against All-American players from across the nation, talent from coast to coast, and I gained a lot of football knowledge in the run game and the pass game. I had great coaches there. I learned a lot about the fundamentals from my linebacker coach, Ken Norton Jr. He taught me a lot about how to be physical and play against the run. Coach (Pete) Carroll was the defensive coordinator and I learned a lot from him."

Carroll and Norton also left USC and are currently coaching the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League. Last June, the NCAA placed USC's football program on probation for two years.

Mendenhall describes Kaveinga as a student of the game, adding that he has the inside track on starting at middle linebacker this fall for the Cougars.

"He loves football. He absolutely loves football. If you watch him on the sideline, how animated he is, any good play, no matter when it is in practice, he seems to see it all," Mendenhall said. "I bet he's been studying (football) from the time he was in kindergarten. He's really smart and very intuitive. He comes off the field and sees things that a lot of times as coaches, and we've had a lot of training, that we just barely see."

Kaveinga played on the scout team last fall at BYU, and he made a lasting impression on the coaches.

"The offensive staff, probably every week last year, told me, 'Man, wait until you see Uona and you get him on your side,' " Mendenhall said. "On all of the special teams, running down on kickoffs, I don't think anyone beat him down the entire year. Once he comes out here (on the field), it's like his playground. He loves it. It's fun to be around guys like that."

The way Kaveinga sees it, the path he's taken from USC to BYU has simply helped him develop into the player, and person, he is now.

"I firmly believe everything happens for a reason," he said. "I was meant to be at USC for those two years and learn from my decision. I'm never going to look back. I'm grateful to be here in Provo."

THURSDAY'S PRACTICE: Quarterback Jake Heaps completed 6-of-9 passes for 85 yards, including a 43-yarder to wide receiver Ross Apo. ... Riley Nelson was 2-of-4 for 14 yards and James Lark was 2-of-4 for 11 yards.