PROVO – Unquestioned commitment, dogged determination and plain old work ethic are attributes admired and sought by Brigham Young University football head coach Bronco Mendenhall when evaluating recruits. Over four years, BYU commit Kuj Tapusoa showed all of these attributes at BYU football camps and was finally rewarded.
Tapusoa is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound defensive back prospect from Kahuku High School on Hawaii’s north shore. He is the nephew of former BYU players Mark Atuaia and Itula Mili and grew up admiring both athletes with the desire to emulate their exploits at BYU.
“His mind has always been on BYU since he was young — always BYU,” says Tapusoa’s father, Johnny Tapusoa. “It didn’t matter which school would show interest — he didn’t care. He just wanted BYU and nothing else.”
With that desire, Kuj started attending BYU camps, hoping to get noticed. And BYU did notice — a little. The letters started coming, not only from BYU, but from schools such as Colorado, UNLV, Arizona State, San Diego State and Utah.
True to form, Kuj would glance over each letter while pouring over each BYU letter received, according to Johnny Tapusoa. “We’d all hear it when Kuj got that letter from BYU,” he said. “He’d scream and yell and read it out loud. Anything he got from BYU was cherished. He appreciated all his letters, but the letters from BYU —they were special to him.”
The problem was that only letters came from BYU. The phone calls, emails and visits out to see him didn’t come while other programs were showing at least as much interest, if not more, up until the end of Kuj's junior season.
The offseason between a recruit’s junior and senior season is a critical time in earning scholarship offers. Indeed, it’s often the last chance for prospects to prove worthy of a scholarship offer.
Therefore, most families are very selective in choosing which camps their senior-to-be sons attend in the offseason. It’s not without sacrifice to send a son anywhere for football camps for a family living in Hawaii. Like most parents, Johnny Tapusoa didn’t have the resources to send his son to multiple camps, so when the time came to make camp plans, he encouraged Kuj to attend a camp other than BYU’s.
“I told Kuj that it just wasn’t happening at BYU,” explained Johnny. “We always wanted to see him play for BYU and that’s what he wanted, but I was like, ‘Here’s Colorado showing a lot of interest, why not go there and get a scholarship? Why not Arizona State, San Diego State or any of the other schools?’ He’d been to BYU, they knew about him, but hadn’t shown all that much interest, so I was thinking it was done there and we needed to move on to another program.”
Kuj wouldn’t hear of it, so off he went to BYU’s camp in a last plea to BYU coaches for a scholarship offer.
Offseason padded camps are often an exhausting process for prep athletes. Up to six hours are spent going through position drills, scrimmages and other activities under a sweltering sun — all in the hopes of having a coach pull you aside and tell you how good you’re doing and that they’re interested.
Throughout the week Kuj saw coaches approach many players, often inviting them up to Mendenhall’s office for an interview. After each day Johnny Tapusoa would call his son, asking how he was doing.
“He wouldn’t say much, just that he was working hard and needed to keep working,” said Johnny Tapusoa. “I’d ask him if coaches had talked to him, if they had said this or that, but all he’d say was that he was working and needed to keep on working.”
As camp broke on Thursday, Kuj found himself with a concussion and without any indication of an offer, until Mendenhall approached him with some good news. He mentioned to Kuj that he’d been impressed with his work and that he’d like to see him play for him at BYU.
Kuj was soon met with his coveted BYU offer shortly following camp and his final conversation with Mendenhall. As one could readily assume, he accepted the offer immediately.
“A lot of tears were shed by him and by me when we heard the news that he’d finally made it — that he’d be able to fulfill his dream,” said Johnny Tapusoa. “It’s been a frustrating and a hard process, and I couldn’t be more proud of my son. He had his goal in mind, he kept his head down and he just worked as hard as he could, and he was rewarded with a scholarship.”
Kuj’s scholarship won’t come into effect until the 2015 season. He’ll pay his own way for his first semester in 2013 before leaving for his planned LDS mission following the 2013 season.
When he finally joins BYU’s program, Kuj is aware of the need to employ the same attributes that earned him a scholarship in the first place.
“He knows. I tell him as a father, but he knows and he won’t let up,” said Johnny Tapusoa. “He’ll work even harder now that he’s earned his scholarship, but I’ll be there to remind him that it’s his hard work that got him to where he is, and it will be him working even harder to get where he now wants to go.”
Email: [email protected]om Twitter: @BrandonCGurney