It's just close to home. —Tennessee Pututau
SALT LAKE CITY — During East High's annual football signing day event, Tennessee Pututau sat at a table with baseball hats from Michigan State, Washington, BYU and Utah placed in front of him.
Thirteen of his Leopard teammates were also seated at tables at the 7:30 a.m. gathering in the school's lunchroom, which generally isn't that packed until closer to noon.
Pututau hadn't publicly announced his college intentions, but there was no drama surrounding the destinations of his classmates who sported gear from their future schools: BYU, Utah, Utah State, Texas, Washington, Eastern Arizona, Peru State College and Independence Community College.
After 15 student-athletes, including girls basketball and softball players, introduced themselves and told the excited crowd where they were headed for college, the attention turned to Pututau.
The senior was handed a big envelope with a BYU logo on it before this event started, and he teasingly held it up for a few seconds while smiling. When it was his turn to make his announcement, Pututau reached for the green and white Spartans hat but quickly tossed it to the side. The purple Washington hat was quickly thrown off the table.
That left two hats remaining: a red one with U on it and a blue one with a Y on it. Anybody who actually asked Pututau over the past week knew which cap he was going to grab. He's better at playing football than keeping a secret.
After a slight hesitation, the defensive end let everybody else know his decision when he grabbed the Utah hat and placed it on his head.
"It was kind of hard not to say it," he admitted, "but I told everyone who asked me."
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Pututau, a first-team all-stater who amassed 106 tackles and 18.5 sacks as a senior, will serve an LDS mission before playing for the Utes. He said he'll have three cousins with him at Utah and he liked the proximity of the university to where his family lives.
"It's just close to home," he said.
Asked if the future looks bright at Utah, Pututau replied, "I think so, I hope so. When I get back, I'll make sure it does."
BYU-bound Jaylon Vickers, a cornerback seated at Pututau's right, quickly snatched the Cougar cap for a signing-day souvenir. Vickers said he's "happy" for Pututau, and he feels pursuing his college career in Provo "was the right opportunity for me."
Paul Maile, 6-3, 250-pound defensive tackle, also signed with the Utes. Linebacker Viliami Tausinga will be headed to BYU with Vickers, and three guys — defensive lineman Johnson Hansen, defensive back Christian Nash and defensive lineman Seni Tuiaki — signed with Utah State. Tuiaki yelled out "Aggie up!" after introducing himself.
Offensive lineman Junior Angilau (Texas) and defensive lineman Sam Taimani (Washington) signed during the early signing period in December.
Other East High football signings included: defensive lineman Moa Heimuli, UNLV; lineman Izik Garcia and running back Lame Feletoa, Eastern Arizona; quarterback/linebacker Nic Harris, Peru (Nebraska) State College; and running back Sione Molisi, Independence (Kansas) Community College.
Players signed their national letters of intent and sent them to their respective schools following the announcements.
This is the most Division I-bound players and overall football signees East High has ever produced, Leopards coach Brandon Matich said. He loves that so many are getting a free college education, which is the most important thing at this stage of their lives.
"Football is going to end one day. It's a cruel sport. It ends quicker for most than other sports," Matich said. "This is what we want for them. We want for them to have an education, have a future and to be able to provide for their families. Man, it makes me proud. These are great kids."