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Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
Utah State senior linebacker Ofa Latu sits on the bench during the Aggies' game against New Mexico State on Sept. 8, at Maverik Stadium in Logan, Utah.

The distance from Provo to Logan is not very long. According to Google Maps, it is 124 miles via I-15 North (fastest route, the usual traffic) and will take 1 hour and 59 minutes.

But for Utah State senior linebacker Ofa Latu, a native of Provo, Utah, the journey he took from his hometown to Logan proved to be a very long and winding one. Despite that, the elder statesman on the team is very grateful to be where he is today.

"It's been a pretty long journey," admitted Latu. "It's pretty crazy because I am actually supposed to be a junior."

Latu graduated from Timpview High School in Provo in 2010. During his senior season with the Thunderbirds, he garnered first-team all-state honors from both the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune after recording 80 tackles and five interceptions in leading Timpview HS to its third-consecutive state title. He was also tabbed the 4A MVP by the Deseret News and Utah Valley Player of the Year by the Daily Herald as a senior.

"Right out of high school, I went to Utah for a summer and then I was supposed to leave on my (Church) mission," Latu said. "I was working on doing that, but along the way, I just decided that I was going to stay, but it wasn't until two years later that I was full-time at Utah in 2012. I did a spring and fall there but ended up redshirting. I just practiced with the team during that time, then decided I would serve a mission."

Latu served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Indianapolis, Indiana, from 2013-15.

"When I came back, Utah told me that they did not have a scholarship for me because the two coaches that were recruiting me from there had left," Latu said. "They told me I could walk on, but I didn't really have the means to walk on, so I decided I would go to Snow College."

Latu played the 2016 season at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, where he recorded 59 tackles, including 4.0 sacks, and one interception as a sophomore. He tallied double-digit tackles in each of the Badgers' final three games of the season, including a career-best 18 stops against Scottsdale JC.

"While I was there, Utah State told me they wanted me," Latu said.

Before joining the Aggies, Latu made sure to get his schooling in line so he could transfer, and he joined Utah State in 2017.

"Ofa has a pretty unique story for a guy who graduated high school at the time he did, then started at the University of Utah before going on a mission," said USU inside linebackers coach Stacy Collins. "He's a little bit older in life, but he's a mature young man that has grown a lot over that time, between the work he did on his mission and the time he went to Snow College for a year and now at Utah State.

"He is very structured both on and off the field. He is a tremendous young man who has just about finished his degree. It's been a long path for him, but he's done a nice job."

While at Snow, Latu welcomed the birth of his first child, Eliany, who is now 2 years old and lives with her mother in Indiana. Despite the distance, Latu keeps his daughter close to his heart.

"She is the biggest drive in my life," Latu said. "My family is, too. Football has always been a big deal to me, and I've always tried to use it as a way for me to succeed in life. While I was at Utah, I didn't really do well in school, but after I had my daughter, there was just a different drive that she gave me. I'm just trying to do the best that I can to better her future and my future family, as well. It's a really great thing."

At 27 years of age, Latu is the elder statesman on Utah State's football team. Despite that, Collins knows he can count on him.

"Ofa is a hard-working guy," Collins said. "He can play multiple positions for us and does a great job of understanding his role on both defense and special teams. He is consistent with what he is doing."

Fellow senior safety/linebacker Jontrell Rocquemore added that he gels with the team despite being older.

"He's got five years on me. I have an older brother that turns 27 in November, so it's crazy. Honestly, it really is crazy how much older he is than a bunch of us, but how easy he fits in with our group and the team. You would never guess that he's 27."

One of Latu's highlights during his time at Utah State came in the Aggies' 73-12 win over Tennessee Tech on Sept. 13. In that game, Latu recovered his first career fumble and came within a yard of returning it for a touchdown.

"Honestly, I was so sad," Latu recalled. "I watched the film and one of our defensive linemen fell on my ankle. I saw the goal line and I reached out but was a yard short. I was just so sad about it, but I know that things happen on the football field, so I'm not angry at any of them. I was just really sad about it because in high school I was able to get takeaways, and I think I had three or four touchdowns, so running the ball has never been too difficult for me. I always just try to find a way into the end zone. It was just very disappointing, but I'm glad we were able to score off of it anyway."

Away from the gridiron and classroom, Latu enjoys playing video games, hanging out with friends and spending time with his girlfriend, Alayna Torgerson.

The son of Fonua and Mino Latu is majoring in sociology and on track to graduate in the spring of 2019.

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"My experience at Utah State has been really good," Latu said. "I have enjoyed my time here. Even though I haven't been here very long, I have especially enjoyed my teammates and have gotten close to a lot of them, if not all of them. The coaching staff has treated me with respect and given me opportunities, and my favorite part about it is how serious they are with education. In the end, that is really what it is all about, so I am very glad with the decision I made to transfer here."