PROVO For the second time this week, a college football player tied to a Division I school and currently serving an LDS mission has accepted a scholarship offer from BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Malosi Te'o, a 5-11, 195-pound running back from Kahuku High School in Hawaii, announced on Thursday he will accept an offer from BYU and enroll in January 2009 instead of UNLV where he signed out of high school. He is on a mission in New York City.
On Monday, former USU quarterback Riley Nelson announced he would accept a BYU offer and transfer to play for the Cougars.
"It's a dream come true for my son," said Te'o's father, Ephraim, who has another son, Levi, at Timpview High School being evaluated by BYU. Malosi Te'o is a first cousin to 2008 Cougar recruit Shiloah Te'o, who also played at Kahuku. Both are cousins to national blue-chip linebacker recruit Manti Te'o, out of Punahou High in Honolulu who is on the top of BYU's recruiting board for the class of 2009.
Malosi Te'o sent letters to UNLV and BYU informing them of his intentions. He never enrolled at UNLV after signing a national letter-of-intent his senior year.
"BYU was his first choice and BYU did recruit my son, but we were told there was not a scholarship available at the time. UNLV was on the doorstep and he signed with them primarily because of the recruiting done by (UNLV coach) Keith Uperesa, a friend of the family."
Ephraim said Uperesa called Thursday and expressed his disappointment in the change of plans by Malosi but was supportive and wished him well. "(Uperesa) is a class act, and he understands why," said Ephraim.
According to Ephraim, the timeline of his son's decision started on Mother's Day a year ago when his son had been on his mission only a few months. "In the course of his first call home as a missionary, Malosi called to speak to his mother. In one short segment of the call, the question of football came up. "My son asked her if there was any way BYU would be interested in him. My wife said she had no idea but she would find out."
That led the Te'os to compose an e-mail to BYU's football staff, asking if there was interest. Part of the letter included an Internet link to his highlight video from the state playoff games his senior year at Kahuku.
"My heart took a shot in the dark," said Ephraim. "We had no idea if they'd respond."
It took months.
The NCAA prohibits recruiting contact with LDS missionaries until they have been serving 12 months.
According to Ephraim, in late January 2008, BYU responded to the letter, informing the family the Cougar staff did have interest. A few weeks later, a formal scholarship offer came in the mail.
"We were surprised, to tell you the truth," said Ephraim. "We didn't know what to do because Bronco Mendenhall said he didn't want to disrupt or distract the missionary from his work. He left it up to me, my wife and the mission president to decide on when and how to inform the missionary of the offer."
They held the letter for about a month.
The Te'o family called the president of the New York South Spanish Speaking Mission and worked out the ways and means of informing the missionary, who received the offer a few weeks ago.
Asked if BYU initiated contact with their son while on his mission, Ephraim said it did not. "Make no mistake about it. They didn't come out and talk about it to us. We sent an innocent e-mail to them first and never expected a response at all. Now that this has happened, we feel very blessed he received an offer."
The question of BYU's policy of recruiting missionaries has been a topic this week in Utah following Nelson's decision. Deseret News sportswriter Jeff Call researched and found a taped interview with Mendenhall at a press conference announcing the recruiting class of 2006 in which he addresses the issue.
Responding to a question from the media about players who signed elsewhere who transferred to BYU, Mendenhall explained: "We have three players that committed somewhere else, Division I, served their mission, and while serving then decided to come to BYU. I think they were simply paying attention to what was going on.
"I think they see the program moving in the right direction, I think they see standards that are being enforced on a daily basis. I think they see a chance to represent what they believe, not only on the football field, but how they live and do it at a place that makes a different kind of statement than they would make I won't mention the other schools but where they were."As they came to us, they came of their own regard. We will not recruit players while they are on their missions. That's not our policy. But when they do contact us, we'll certainly listen."