PROVO — It's often difficult for teenagers and even young adults to be advised by their elders, but for BYU freshman offensive lineman Keanu Saleapaga, doing as much has paid big dividends.
On two notable occasions the 6-foot-6, 295-pound converted defensive lineman fought against what was advised at first, but freely and enthusiastically acknowledges now the benefits of changing his mind.
The first occasion came right before National Letter of Intent day in 2016. While holding offers from such schools as Colorado, Arizona, Ole Miss after de-committing from USC just two months prior, Saleapaga's parents urged him to sign with BYU, which was a program he wasn't all impressed with when making his official visit.
“I honestly didn’t like it,” Saleapaga recalled. “We didn’t have the new weight room yet and we didn’t have the lounge — all the flashy stuff and I was coming off the Colorado visit. So me just being a little 17-year-old, I was just looking for the flashy (stuff) and all the new uniforms. All that Pac-12 kind of stuff.”
But Saleapaga's parents had different ideas. They strongly encouraged their talented son to sign with the program he was turned off by perhaps most while taking his official visits.
“I sat down with my parents right before signing day and they advised me. They felt that (BYU) was the right place for me, and for my family,” Saleapaga, whose family aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said. “I knew that every decision I made for myself wasn’t always the right one, so I just trusted my parents and ever since I’ve been here I’ve loved it.”
Getting to BYU wasn't exactly a smooth process, however. Due to NCAA clearinghouse issues, the Bellflower, California native had to wait until January of 2017 to enroll and then join the football program.
He spent the 2017 season on the scout team, due to a mandated redshirt year, and performed admirably to the point where he was excited to make an impact along the defensive front for the 2018 season. But BYU's offensive staff had different plans. Both offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Ryan Pugh approached Saleapaga with the proposition of playing offensive line.
Saleapaga, who had no offensive line experience rejected the idea when first presented him during spring practices, but was approached again with the idea in fall, and opted to listen to his elders, recognizing the vast experience the staff had in developing players.
“I honestly just trusted the coaches,” Saleapaga said. “They approached me again and I just believed in them this time and I knew this close to the season that it would help out a lot, too. So I just wanted to do whatever for me to get on the field and to help this team with whatever I can.”
That trust Saleapaga put into the coaching staff was returned during last Saturday's big 24-21 win over Wisconsin, with Grimes and Pugh trusting the freshman to start against the Badgers, despite only having about one month's experience practicing on the offensive side of the ball.6 comments on this story
“He played great for a guy in that position. For his age (and) the first time playing offense on that stage? Really, really proud of what he did,” Grimes said. “And it will probably be the worst game he ever plays because he’s only going to get better from here.”
Saleapaga largely agrees with Grimes' assessment of it likely being his worst outing, despite performing well enough to play the entire game. In fact, he's set to be agreeable to just about anything presented him by the coaching staff for the rest of his BYU football career.
“Now I believe in anything these coaches tell me,” Saleapaga said.