Tico Fuga had all but made up his mind. He wasn’t planning on going up to BYU, the college where his older brother Romney had blazed a wide and successful trail.
“Well, basically I wasn’t really planning on coming out to BYU,” said Fuga. “My parents were planning on sending me out because my brother was saying, ‘Send him, send him.’ I wasn’t all that interested in going because I wanted to do something else.”
Romney convinced him and his parents that he and the rest of the family should come up and visit BYU.
“When I got there they told me that they wanted to meet with me at 5:30,” said Fuga. “That’s when I got a surprise and was offered a scholarship by BYU.”
Fuga now had a BYU offer to add to his offers from Utah, Boise State and Utah State.
“I didn’t really want to expect anything, so I went up there with an open mind,” Fuga said. “When I got the offer, I was surprised. I was just in the moment of, ‘Am I really getting an offer from BYU?’”
Although his brother was a former defensive line great, the younger Fuga’s blood ran red with the color of the University of Utah. The Utah coaching staff had been heavily recruiting him for some time now, and the University of Utah was where his heart was.
“I was supposed to go to Utah tomorrow,” Fuga said on Tuesday. “I was going to go there and commit tomorrow. That was my plan. I was going to go up there and meet with the coaches and commit to Utah.”
However, the offer from Coach Mendenhall was part of a process that slowly changed Fuga’s heart. It was a process that began with a personal talk he had with his brother.
“On Sunday, me and my brother Romney had a long talk,” said Fuga. “He just told me about the real meaning of BYU. He really went into depth about it and really opened my eyes. He talked about how they put their faith first and how they share the gospel, and that struck me deep. That’s when I started thinking.”
With enlightening words, big brother Romney tilled a hardened heart and planted a blue seed.
“What was going through my mind was I was really stuck on Utah [Monday],” said Fuga. “Like, I wanted to go to Utah and that was pretty much it. I was really ready to go to Utah and play up there, but when I went to the camp at BYU I really started to love it. The coaches were great and I started to love the coaches because they started showing interest in me. It then became a scary thing for me.”
The experiences Fuga was having on campus began to match the message his brother spoke about the previous day. A third confirmation came after the first day of camp when he was called into Coach Mendenhall’s office.
“First [Mendenhall] started talking about how a few years ago he was in our house meeting with my brother and I was there as a little kid,” said Fuga. “I remembered that experience clearly. It was just really cool how I was there.”
The conversation then turned to a more serious nature. The talk with Coach Mendenhall touched Fuga’s heart, swelling the tiny seed planted by his brother the previous day.
“Coach Mendenhall is a good coach, but what I really liked was how he tied truth to football,” said Fuga. “He doesn’t really put football first, he puts faith first. He cares about his players and not just about success. He cares about what happens to his players after college and things like that. Coach Mendenhall then gave me a letter to read.
“I started reading it, and it said that I had a scholarship for 2016. At first I was trying not to cry. I don’t know, I couldn’t believe that I was getting an offer from the same school that my brother went to. When I was reading the letter and it said I was getting an offer, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to a program that would not only help me with football and school, but go to a program that would help me succeed in life too and stay strong in the Church.”
Fuga had heard and seen enough. The convictions of his heart led him to make a final decision.
“It was funny because when I was talking with Coach Mendenhall, everything he hit on and talked about was basically everything my brother talked about. He then started talking about church and things like that. I then started thinking, ‘Wow, my brother was right. This is what the program stands for.’ I had a good feeling about it and so I felt like I should commit. So, I did. I told him, ‘I want to commit. I want to come here.’ It’s kind of funny because I hurt my foot at camp on Monday and wasn’t really able to do much, so I was thinking that I wouldn’t get the offer. I was thinking that I wouldn’t be offered, but instead I left with one.
“BYU is just different. I mean, obviously it’s a Mormon school and so there is a LDS emphasis there unlike at other colleges. The players that I met here every day were different. They carried themselves differently and aren’t selfish. It’s just a different feeling, so I just felt like I should commit.”
In front of his father Romney Fuga Sr. and Coach Kaufusi, Tico Fuga gave his commitment to Coach Mendenhall that he would be a Cougar. The one person not in attendance for the occasion was Romney, who played a big part in his decision. The only thing to do now was to let him know he committed to play football at BYU.
“At first I wanted to tell him, ‘I turned down the scholarship because I want to go to Utah,’” said Fuga with a slight laugh. “My dad told me, ‘That might not be a good idea because you might get kicked out of the house!’ I don’t know how he found out, but I guess he wrote on Twitter that he was proud of me. He just told me that I made the right choice and that he’s proud of me. He told me he’s excited for me because he knows what kind of experience I'm going to have.”
Fuga plans on contacting the other schools that have recruited him to let them know he has chosen BYU.
“I’ll call them up [Wednesday] to let them know,” said Fuga. “That’s what I plan on doing. I’ll let them know that I committed to BYU. It’s a good feeling, you know, but it’s going to be a challenge for me because people are going to expect a lot from me because of my brother. So, I just have to work harder and push myself to be better. Living in my brother’s shadow – because he was an all-star in high school – is tough, but I'm going to try and be better. I hope BYU fans will support me as I try to fill his big shoes. I am grateful for the opportunity. I'm definitely just grateful to Heavenly Father.”
It wasn’t but two days ago that a young Tico Fuga’s blood ran bright red, but now his blood flows a different color.
“It’s blue now,” he said.