A tribute to a father's legacy

Isaiah Nacua

Two brothers each received a scholarship offer on Tuesday from Coach Mendenhall. The two offers fulfill a lifelong desire of a father who sacrificed more than most men for the sake of his sons' future.

Lionel Nacua came to the mainland of America years ago, and with his wife Penina, raised a large family of seven children in the city of Las Vegas.

"I'm Samoan but my husband Lionel was like a mutt," said Penina, laughing affectionately as she talked about her husband that recently passed away. "He was born and raised on the big island and is a mix of Portuguese, Hawaiian, Filipino and German. So, all of my kids look different like Mexican, Filipino, and one that looks Portuguese. So, we have it all covered in the family."

One son, Isaiah, is 6 feet 2 inches and 255 pounds, runs a 4.7 forty, squats 370 pounds, benches 275 and cleans 270. A 2014 defensive tackle recruit, Isaiah plays for Bishop Gorman and has an offer from Arizona State. On Tuesday he received his second offer following his performance during BYU's summer camp.

"It was a really good feeling," Isaiah said. "It was really good because me and my brother Kai were having a nice conversation about BYU and what the school means to us."

Isaiah's older brother Kai will graduate in 2013 and comes in at about 6 feet 2 inches, 200 pounds. Instead of playing for Bishop Gorman, he plays for Liberty High School.

"Ever since I was a kid, I always followed my older brother around," said Isaiah. "He went onto Liberty and I became good friends with Danny [Hong], who was a quarterback at Bishop Gorman. I've always been in the shadow of my brother, but I just thought it would be good for me to get out of that shadow and be independent of Kai."

"I was able to help my team go to the semifinals," said Kai. "I played quarterback and safety and tried to help my team as best I could. We made it to the semifinals and I was able to play my brother."

Unfortunately for Kai, Isaiah and Bishop Gorman came away the victors.

"Yeah, they beat us," said Kai. "That was the game my dad was waiting for. He was there to watch it. It will be great to play with my brother again at BYU."

So did Isaiah sack Kai when they played against each other?

"No, he didn't, but he said he did," said Kai with a laugh. "He's lucky he didn't play quarterback or else I would have sacked him. He's lucky."

"It was the best game their dad ever saw or any of us did," Penina said. "It was so awesome to see the boys on the field together, but their dad wanted them to have the chance to one day play together."

The two brothers may have been on the field together last season as opponents, but in a few years they'll be reunited in the BYU fold as "The Band of Brothers."

Kai threw for about 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in an option offense last year. He also ran for about 500 yards. Isaiah, meanwhile, had about seven sacks on the season last year and apparently did really well at BYU's camp on Tuesday.

"My mean side comes out when it needs to," Isaiah said. "I play defensive end and I do well with my speed. That's my main thing and I have great speed coming off the end. I bulked up since my freshman year because I got pushed around a little bit, so now I've bulked up since then and now I have speed and power. Today at the one-on-ones I was d-end and d-tackle."

So how did he do?

"That's a funny question," Isaiah said with a chuckle. "I, uh, I killed everybody."

And what about Kai?

"It was good because I got a chance to hit again," Kai said. "In the one-on-ones every time I went up against someone, Coach Tidwell would call out, ‘Bring me your best running back!' I would go up against him and beat him, so I did really well and it was a lot of fun."

Following the camp, Penina and her two sons head to BYU's football offices. In the car they said a prayer and then headed on up to see Coach Mendenhall. In his office, the two boys both received a scholarship offer and quickly committed.

"Coach Mendenhall is a very spiritual coach and I like him a lot," said Isaiah. "Me and Kai came in and it felt like we were in a church meeting, but then we realized we were at BYU. The great thing about Coach Mendenhall is he's going to push us past our limits and expectations.

"It's the same with Coach Kaufusi. He's a very nice man and I can't wait to get to know him even more. He's my coach now and is also a very spiritual man. I got to meet his brother Jason [Kaufusi] and it was a blessing having those two guys there."

"My husband wanted both of my boys to be able play together," said Penina, fighting back the tears as she spoke. " … The only time they've played together was last year in the state semifinal when they both played against each other. It was just so awesome having the three of us sitting there in Coach Mendenhall's office when he proposed the offer to the boys. It was so exciting, but in thinking of everything my husband wanted of my boys, I was instantly a mess."

It's easy to understand why a mother would shed tears of joy for her two boys on this day. The scholarship offers for the two brothers fulfilled a dream of her late husband's.

"I'm sorry, it's so emotional for me because my husband just passed away," said Penina with tears in her eyes. "This meant a lot because he brought the boys on their first recruiting trip here to BYU. When he came home, I still remember the smile he had on his face when he said, ‘This is where I want the boys to go if they get an opportunity.' I still remember that day when my husband and my boys came home from their first trip to BYU.

"Coach Mendenhall said to us when offering the boys, he said, ‘I don't normally do this, but you both have an offer to come to BYU.' We had a family talk a couple of weeks ago when their father passed away. It was about us taking one step at a time and keep moving forward. We talked about how we were going to try to be together at the same school. We have seven kids and all of them are boys but one girl. We talked about our game plan, and that was to find a central spot where we as a family could all go to school.

"Listening to Coach Mendenhall, and the opportunity he's given my two boys, I felt like the Lord was guiding my sons because it was really their decision. Mendenhall spoke directly to them and they answered directly to him. I just sat and listened and watched and of course had that prayer in my heart that my husband had always wished for. I think it came into play the way it was meant to be and I know my husband is once again smiling."

Penina wasn't the only one in Coach Mendenhall's office with teary eyes.

"I was just so grateful for the offer by Coach Mendenhall," said Kai. "I was so happy for me and my younger brother and just started crying because I wished my father was there. I know he was with us and that's what he wanted."

With a quiver in her voice and in a soft tone, Penina spoke lovingly of her husband Lionel, who had great foresight in preparing his children for that single moment.

"My husband passed away because of diabetes," she said. "He had been diabetic for a long time, but was a busy man taking care of our family. Unfortunately, he never put himself first."

Pausing for a moment, Penina reflected, gathered her thoughts and spoke reverently about the lifelong sacrifices Lionel made until the very end.

"He always took care of business and provided for our family," Penina said. "He always took the boys to football and did whatever he needed to do to afford and making sure that he provided a way for them to go to camps and have opportunities. He made sure the younger kids got a chance to play basketball and had opportunities too. That is what dad was always doing. He was never in the front row but always in back making sure I could take care of them wherever they need to go and wherever they needed to travel. Diabetes is the one that got him, but I know he's in a better place now and able to watch over the boys."

"My dad was a very hard worker and he always put himself before us even as kids," said Isaiah. "Even when we never really had money, he always found a way somehow to get enough money for us to go to a camp for a day so we could give it our best. Just to have money to come down here to this BYU camp and get my offer is something my dad worked for. He was a very hard worker and his dream was for us to come here. It was my dream too."

Their commitment to play at BYU is Isaiah's and Kai's tribute to their father.

"I knew that BYU was the place my dad wanted me to go," said Kai. "I knew that if I got the opportunity to go to BYU, I would take it right away. I just want to say to my dad, I love you. I did this for you and I'll see you soon. Until then, I'm going to rock it as a Cougar and make you proud."

"My scholarship offer from BYU today is me paying tribute to my father," said Isaiah. "This is his dream for us to go to BYU and something we talked about. We talked about us going to BYU and staying together. To get an offer from Coach Mendenhall and have the chance to go to BYU is a fulfillment of a dream he had a long time ago."

After a long reflective pause, Isaiah, "I just want to say that I miss you dad, and the dream has come true. Our family is coming closer and closer like you've always wanted. I can't wait to meet you once again. This is a tribute to him and I think my dad is cheering for me and Kai."

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