"I'm 6'3", 208 pounds and I play defensive end for our varsity team at Kamehameha High School right now," said Tafua. "I'm just a sophomore right now but this was the first time I started on varsity. I'm not sure how many total tackles I had, but I had around eight or nine sacks."
Last summer Tafua visited BYU's campus.
"I went to BYU's camp and they divided all the freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors, so I went to the freshman and sophomore side as a freshman defensive end for the first session," said Tafua. "I thought that I could compete against at a higher level on the other side against the juniors and seniors.
"I ended up over there, and during warm-ups Coach Poppinga asked me what position I was and I told him that I was a defensive end. He told me that I should go to outside linebacker, so I went over there and I guess I did alright. I just tried to do my best."
He evidently caught the eye of the Cougar coaches.
"When I was there at the BYU camp, I got called into Coach Mendnehall's office," said Tafua. "It was pretty scary for me because I didn't know why he wanted me there for. When I went to his office, Aaron Francisco and Travis Uale were both in the room. I thought it was pretty cool because Aaron is from Laie and I've seen him on TV but I never got a chance to meet him. Travis is a distant cousin of mine, and so we're part family. I got to know the guys a little more and they were talking to me about their BYU experiences. The talked to me about how BYU was more than just football. That's when Coach Mendenhall walked into the office."
Coach Mendenhall began to inform Tafua about Brigham Young University.
"We talked about BYU and what BYU is about," said Tafua. "We talked about how BYU is more than just a place to play football, but a place that helps to build character and mold you into a man. It was a very good experience for me. He wanted to know about my family and about my character. I told him about my life and how it is in Laie and how everyone is Mormon. We talked about how Laie is like the Provo of Hawaii. He read a couple of articles out of the Ensign magazine and that was great. He talked to me about accepting the BYU standards and the honor code and asked me if I would be able to keep it. I told him that I liked the honor code and that I wanted to serve a mission."
Then, Tafua learned the real reason why he was called into Coach Mendenhall's office.
"After that he told me he wanted to offer me a scholarship. I got a full-ride offer to BYU," said Tafua. "This past summer I went to a BYU football camp and it was a great experience. The environment over there was really great. It was just a great experience for me being over there and it really opened my eyes a lot to what BYU was really about. It was a great experience."
His offer and his experiences during his visit helped change Tafua's perspective of BYU.
"My sister [Malia] plays on the women's rugby team over there at BYU. She was sending me pictures of her black eyes and all that. She's really good and told me that BYU has a really good rugby team, so I kind of didn't like BYU at first because my sister goes there. I was kind of looking more at UH or the U of U because of the rivalry they have with BYU. It was just that competitive spirit that we have, but after my visit to BYU it really opened my eyes and it brought me back to my senses. I'm just really grateful for this opportunity that I've been given by Coach Mendenhall."
All in all, his visit helped to start wipe away thoughts of going anywhere else.
"I am true blue all the way and it was a big eye-opener for me," he said. "BYU uses sports as a vehicle to help young men and women become the best they can be in every part of their lives. That's what I loved about BYU. It wasn't just about playing a game to just win, but to play a game to help you win in every part of your life.
"BYU also uses football and sports as a way to share more of what the school is about. They're independent and they play big-name schools like Notre Dame on national television to help bring people's attention to what BYU is about. I thought it was cool how Coach Mendenhall was explaining to me how BYU is run by the General Authorities. He said that because of that, the football team is too and that they watch and want to portray a good image of the Church and use BYU football as a way to do that. I really liked that."
After the offer from Coach Mendenhall, Tafua went on a family tour while he was out visiting the Mainland before then returning home.
"[Coach Mendenhall] offered me the scholarship when I was at Utah, but after the camp I was just visiting family in Utah," said Tafua. "We had a flight over to Portland, Oregon and then I went to Washington to visit my other family. Then when we got home to Hawaii, eventually, Coach Mendenhall had told me to talk to my parents about it and to call him back and let him know what I thought about it. I didn't really know what to do because I was super nervous, so I prayed and fasted a lot and talked to my parents about it.
"When I returned home, I talked to my parents about it. They just told me that I have to be grateful about the experience that I was given. Once I got the offer, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was looking for direction and guidance in life. We had a nice little discussion about it and how BYU would help me grow in all areas of my life."
Tafua then sought to learn more about BYU.
"After I got the offer, I went back and researched the school. I learned more about what BYU was all about and looked up all the good things about it. I looked up all the videos and saw Kyle Van Noy and all those guys and learned about their character and how they carry themselves on and off the field. Basically, BYU represents me, you know? I have the same values as what is expected at BYU. I really liked it."
After much family council, personal research and a lot of fasting and praying, Tafua made up his mind.
"Then about a week later, I called Coach Mendenhall back about a week later on the phone," said Tafua. "I felt that BYU had everything I wanted like the environment, education, values and the kind of people that are there. I decided to take up the challenge and commit to him on the phone that I would be a man of my word to be a Cougar. He asked me if I would be a man of my word and I've decided that I would be. I committed to him and in my heart I'm committed to play for BYU."
It's a rare situation for BYU to verbally offer a young prospect heading into his sophomore year of high school football. For a prospect to commit a week later after being verbally offered is even rarer, but that is what Tafua did.
"It feels good to be committed to BYU," said Tafua. "We kind of made a joke about it over here. You know the movie "The Blind Side" with Michael Oher? He was being interviewed by the NCAA people and they asked him why he wanted to go to Ole Miss, and he said, ‘Because that's where my family went to school.' When my parents asked me why I wanted to go to BYU, I told them that. That's when they started crying."
With his mind set, Tafua's path in life has been laid out before him for potentially the next nine years. In reflecting back over this incredible opportunity, Tafua simply wanted to say thanks to someone he holds in high esteem.
"I would like to say to Coach Mendenhall, ‘Thanks for this opportunity for me to play football, go on my mission and then come back and play football at BYU,'" said a humble Tafua. "'I just want to thank him for the opportunity he's given me. I read somewhere where it was said that at BYU it says, ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve.' I really like that saying and really want to go serve a mission. Now, I have the opportunity to go on my mission and then come back and play football at BYU. To have a scholarship to get an education waiting for me is such a dream come true.' I just can't thank him enough."
With the verbal commitment of Mika Tafua and Ku-J Tapusoa, two local boys from Laie, Hawaii, BYU has reestablished that connection to the North Shore. BYU is also actively recruiting Kahuku High School running back Aofaga Wily, who is planning on taking an official visit to BYU with the hope that an offer is extended. BYU's presence in Laie – or, as Tafua puts it, "The Provo of Hawaii" – is well on its way.