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Alex Gallardo, AP
UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (56) warms up on the field prior to their NCCA college football game against Colorado Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
I think for me, going to UCLA, that’s always been my goal. When I left Utah to go there, I knew that I wanted to play in the NFL. That was my main goal. —Xavier Su’a-Filo

AMERICAN FORK — Like most little boys who grow up playing football, Xavier Su’a-Filo has dreamed of playing in the NFL.

But unlike most boys, the American Fork native has a real shot at making his dream come true. The UCLA offensive lineman and Timpview High alum took a step toward making his dream a reality Saturday when he announced he was forgoing his senior season at UCLA to declare himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

“I think for me, going to UCLA, that’s always been my goal,” the 23-year-old said of the NFL. “When I left Utah to go there, I knew that I wanted to play in the NFL. That was my main goal.”

Su’a-Filo said his decision to skip his senior season and declare for the draft came after discussions with his family and coaches about what was best for his future. The devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said he also prayed about his options and felt like this was the right decision for him.

“To have an opportunity to make this dream real, it’s just a great blessing and I’m very grateful,” said Su’a-Filo, who leaves Utah on Sunday to return to California, where he will train until NFL combines at the end of February. “My coaching staff has been so supportive. My head coach and position coach told me that I needed to be working hard to do what’s best for the team this season. But when that was over, they said I needed to make the decisions that were best for me.”

He said he’s felt especially blessed to have coaches who’ve looked out for him and his individual goals.

“It’s meant a whole lot to me to have coaches that look out for me and support me either way,” he said.

There weren’t many reasons for him to play another year of college football.

“I just felt like I was ready, that it was time to go,” Su’a-Filo said. “I’m looking forward to it, stepping into the unknown and not looking back.”

Su’a-Filo became the first freshman to start for the Bruins on the offensive side of the ball, and he was subsequently named to the Sporting News’ Pac-10 all-freshman team. He was also the co-winner of UCLA’s John Boncheff, Jr, Memorial team award for Rookie of the Year.

Su’a-Filo left on an LDS Church mission after his freshman season, serving in Alabama and Florida for two years in a Spanish speaking mission. A month before Su’a-Filo returned home, UCLA officials fired the man who recruited him — Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins’ new head coach, Jim Mora, saw Su’a-Filo as key to the team’s success and spent an hour on the phone with him the night he returned home.

Mora flew to Utah the next day to meet with Su’a-Filo, who had no intention of leaving UCLA. Even when the program looked like it was in turmoil, Su’a-Filo said he always felt it was the right place for him.

“Even when I was a freshman, a lot of things happened, and I wasn’t exactly sure why,” he told the Deseret News this fall. “And I was confident that I could go in and compete anywhere as a freshman. But I did want to go in and compete, especially with me going on a mission.”

When Su’a-Filo returned, he picked up right where he left off. Since returning to UCLA in the spring of 2012, he’s started all 27 games — alternating between left guard and left tackle.

“I love UCLA, and I’m glad I went there,” he said. “I’m grateful for everybody who’s helped and supported me there and the people who’ve supported me here. This is where it all started for me.”

As a high school standout, he started every game over three seasons for Timpview High. He was a Parade All-American, an EA Sports First-Team All-American, PrepStar All-American and played in the Under Armour All-American game.

He’s also an Eagle Scout and the oldest of four children.

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Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.dom