The Cougar That Got a Second Chance

Brian Soi

For many LDS athletes who dream of playing football, the reality of suiting up seems to slip through the cracks of their fingers with every grasp. Such was the case for one talented LDS athlete given a firm hold on such an opportunity.

For many thousands of athletes across the country, the dream to play football after high school will simply never come to fruition. For those few given such an opportunity, the chances of going beyond college and into the NFL are almost as slim.

For someone as physically talented as former Timpview High School star Brian Soi, playing football at the college level and in the NFL was a lifelong dream. To put it mildly, Soi ate, drank, slept and dreamed of playing football, and rose to become a national top-100 defensive linemen prospect, and a SuperPrep Midlands Defensive Player of the Year while in high school. Simply put, Soi was good enough to punch his own ticket to just about any college football program in the country.

It wasn't long until college coaches like Pete Carroll and Norm Chow of USC offered him a full-ride scholarship, as did programs the likes of Nebraska, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, BYU and more. But even though he could have gone to just about any top national football program in the country, he turned them all down for the opportunity to play football at BYU.

"I love BYU and I'm a Cougar at heart," said Soi. "All my life it's been about BYU. I could have gone to other schools but I signed with BYU out of high school with Matt Ah You and that class. I was just so excited to become a Cougar but it just didn't work out, but I've always wanted to play for BYU and turned everyone down to be a Cougar.

"They have the best coaches, the best fans and the best community and environment. Even though it never worked out for me, they all supported me all the way through. It just puts a smile on my face when I hear how BYU fans never gave up on me during all that time while I was trying to become a Cougar.

"Recently someone asked me if I was Brian Soi, and when I told them that I was, he said, ‘You are my favorite BYU Cougar to have never played.' I thought that was really cool because in my heart I am a Cougar. You know, eventually I had to go to Utah State because of my grades, but even though I was at Utah State I was still a Cougar at heart.

Although he signed at BYU as a high profile athlete, Soi never got the chance to suit up in Cougar blue.

"Everybody knows that all I wanted to do was play football at BYU, and that's why I tried so hard and did so much to try and play there," said Soi. "I went back east to a prep school because of my grades, rather than go to a junior college, so I could play at BYU. You know, school just wasn't my thing and I had a hard time, but I really wanted to play at BYU. I only went to Utah State because of my grades, and even though I was there I was only there because I could go there as a Prop. 48 [Proposition 48 contains the academic requirements that must be met in order to become a Division I athlete]. In my heart I was still a Cougar. I was just at Utah State because I had to be."

Soi only spent one year at USU.

"I left Utah State to go to UVSC to try and get my AA degree to try again to become a Cougar," Soi said. "That was my whole mindset because I wanted to play for BYU. When Utah State found out that I was leaving they weren't too happy about that and wouldn't release my transcripts ‘til three months later. It was just a difficult situation for me."

While at UVSC, Soi saw the uphill climb he faced academically after leaving Utah State. With so much work to make up and so little money to pay for classes, he thought of throwing in the towel on his dream of playing for BYU.

"I was in a real deep hole from Utah State," said Soi. "Financially, I just couldn't cut it at UVSC because I was paying for my own classes and my books and I just couldn't do it. It was so frustrating for me and I thought, ‘Man, forget this. I'm just going to go play arena football.'"

Feeling his efforts left him further and further from being a Cougar, or ever playing college football for that matter, Soi turned to some old friends for comfort and guidance. These men would soon learn firsthand of his decision to give up all together.

"I would go down to BYU and go to Coach Reynolds's office to talk with him and he would just tell me, ‘Don't give up your dreams,'" said Soi. "I could tell when I was talking to them that they really cared about me, but at the same time they were getting mad at me. They knew the potential that I had.

"Coach Reynolds knew me from my sophomore year in high school when I was good friends with his son Dallas. I was really close with their whole family. I was close with Dallas' mom Lesley and his dad Lance and [his brother] Houston. I'm really close to the whole family and they're great people. Lance Reynolds just basically told me to not give up on my dreams and this is something that I could do and have wanted to do my whole life. He pretty much encouraged me to keep going and not give up. Coach Reynolds and Coach Mendenhall really helped me out.

"I would go down to BYU and talked with Coach Mendenhall numerous times in his office. He could tell I was really down and ready to give up, but he always encouraged me and supported me. When the coaches at BYU heard that I was planning on just giving up to go play arena football, they just said, ‘No, no you're not being very smart if you give this up.' They just said that I should try and move on and reach my goals first, then come back and get my degree.

"So I went down to BYU and I guess they were having their Pro Day, and I talked to three coaches. I talked with the Bengals, the Packers and the Raiders right after I had a meeting with Bronco and Coach Reynolds. It was a great thing because I was just psyched from then on to try again because I was so pissed off and so disappointed for ruining my opportunity to play football. The coaches at BYU were the ones the really changed my life. They knew that I could play. Now that I have my foot in the door, I'm going to force my way in. I owe everything to these Cougar coaches."

Soi would be given a road map that would lead him to that one chance he was looking for.

"Coach Reynolds and Coach Mendenhall told me about this supplemental draft that was coming up in the NFL," said Soi. "They both told me that this would be a great opportunity for me. They changed my life after I was ready to just give up and throw in the towel."

Coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Lance Reynolds replaced Soi's thoughts of failure with a heart full of hope and encouragement. Soi soon found himself reenergized with hope, knowing he still had one more chance to fulfill his dreams of playing football once again.

"After that I went and trained with my uncle Tui [Filiaga], and I'm grateful for him helping me," said Soi. "I went and trained for two weeks with him. After not training for so long because I was trying to just focus on my schooling at UVSC, I just pushed myself. I worked hard for those two weeks to prepare myself to see what could happen."

Along with his agent Max Henneman, who also represents Arizona's Deuce Lutui, former Seattle Seahawk and BYU Cougar Itula Mili, Pittsburgh Steeler Cameron Stephenson and Miami's Reagan Mauia, among others, the coaches at BYU set up an opportunity for NFL scouts to watch Soi work out.

"It was supposed to be held at BYU," said Soi. "My agent Max Henneman set this up with Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU coaches for this to be done at BYU. They set this up specifically for me and I was the only one there timing. All these scouts from these NFL teams came down with their stopwatches and clipboards. It was pretty much a year and half since I played any football and my agent told me he never had a client like this before, but they still set this up for me to run through this for the NFL scouts."

However, with BYU's practice field undergoing a turf renovation, the event was moved to Timpview High School.

"I couldn't do it at BYU because the field turf on BYU's practice field was gone, so they thought about holding it up at the U of U and I was like, ‘No, no I don't want to do that' and my mom was like, ‘No, no, no' too. We eventually just held it up at Timpview High School, which was pretty cool.

"Five NFL teams came down to watch me work out. The Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, the Bears, the Cowboys and the Dolphins came down to see me. They all just pretty much worked me out. My cousin Mark Atuaia played a big hand in helping me too. The NFL coaches knew that I wasn't in game shape yet and they knew what my situation was.

"For someone who only trained for two weeks, [I left the scouts] actually pretty impressed. The Miami coach told me that I was ‘phenomenal.' That's what he told me, and the scouts felt my numbers were just as good as Emmanuel Wright from USC. They said I did better than he did and he trained for three months. Right after I worked out for them they expressed how interested they were in me.

Despite having only trained competitively for two weeks in a year and a half, it didn't take long for the Miami Dolphins to make a decision.

"The Miami Dolphins called me up the next morning and told me they had decided to pick me up," said Soi. "When I got that call the next morning I was so excited that I can't even explain it. I was just so amazed and thankful. The Dolphins picked me up even though my numbers weren't the greatest. I weighed in at 317 pounds and I clocked in the forty at a 5.2. I jumped a 29-inch vertical and I broad jumped at 8'11". I don't remember what my shuttle time was but I did the bench 21 times. These numbers were just ridiculous and they weren't the best, and throughout the whole time I was pissed off and they could see that.

"I knew that I was better than what I showed, but Mark and my family were there supporting me. They knew I was just so frustrated because I could do much better, but I hadn't been training for over a year. I had been trying to concentrate on school at UVSC to try and play ball for the Cougars."

Following the first round of testing, the NFL scouts put Soi through a series of rigorous d-lineman drills.

"After that they put me through a bunch of defensive line drills and this just murdered me," said Soi while chuckling. "They kept running me through drill after drill to see if I would give up, but I didn't give up."

Soi received some rather enticing words of encouragement from his cousin Mark Atuaia.

"Mark was pretty much just pushing me through the whole thing," Soi said. "I was breathing hard and every time I started slowing down he would say, ‘You ready to quit yet so we can go down and pick up your application at McDonalds? Because that's what you're pretty much going to be doing.' He would push me that way and was getting me pissed off, which would make me push and push harder to finish through it."

Soi had learned that these same drills that he fought through caused some rather high profile college football players to quit.

"Most of the d-tackles that went through this gave up, like USC's Manuel Wright. I only trained for two weeks and didn't give up and I think that impressed them a lot. They saw how I didn't quit when I was running through the drills and felt because of that they could work with me. They know that I have a lot of potential and said they're going to work with me. Now that I don't have to worry about trying to make it in school I just told them, ‘Give me a year to work hard and to train and I promise that I'll be a major factor in your scheme.' They believe me and said they're going to work with me a lot. This is just amazing to me and I have a lot to be grateful for."

Along with being grateful for his family's support and encouragement, Soi also feels he owes a lot of thanks and gratitude towards others for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I have a lot to be thankful for," said Soi. "My family had a fast for me and went to the temple for me, and after that I just said a lot of prayers to Heavenly Father thanking Him for this opportunity. I think He helped me by influencing others to help me, like Coach Reynolds and Coach Mendenhall. I really owe the BYU coaches a lot for this opportunity. Without them this never would have happened and I never would have been given this opportunity.

"All I was asking for was just a shot. I wasn't expecting to be drafted or anything. All I wanted was a shot because I know I messed up in school. You know, school just wasn't the deal for me and I struggled with it. I never had any problems learning the playbook, or terminology or anything with football. I could pick that up easy. Its just school I had a difficult time with.

"All I wanted was one shot but felt I would never have that chance because I wasn't good at school and I messed up there. I'm just so grateful for my family and for what the BYU coaches and my agent did for me. The coaches always told me that they just cared for me no matter what happened and always said they want what's best for me. They cared enough for me and never forgot about me even though I never played one single down for them. Now that I've been given the chance I'm not going to let down Coach Reynolds or Coach Mendenhall. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity and compliment those who helped me with this chance by being successful. I'm also going to prove those people wrong who doubted me, even though they had a right to."

Throughout his academic troubles and during those years he struggled, Soi remembers the personal council he received from BYU's coaches during the recruiting process while he was still in high school, and when he would personally go and talk with them in their offices at BYU. It's something he will never forget.

"Other coaches at other colleges tell you what you want to hear, but these coaches really do care about you," said Soi. "When they tell you something they mean it and stick by it. They're the greatest coaches that I've ever met. They don't just care about your success in football, but they [also] want you to be successful in school and will support what's best for you in life and as a person. You know, I wanted to go to BYU, but I was not able to go to BYU after I signed with them out of high school. They still supported me no matter what up to this day, even though I never once wore a BYU jersey. They are the backbone for my life changing and for this opportunity, and I'm still going to represent BYU no matter where I go."

With no more chances left, Soi wants to makes sure he makes the most of it.

"I'm really excited," said an overwhelmed Soi. "You have no idea how excited I am to just be blessed with this opportunity. For me this is a second chance when I was just about to give up after trying to play football for so long. Many don't even get a first chance even after playing college football, and I haven't played football for almost a year and half, and here I am going to the Miami Dolphins to play in the NFL. This is a real blessing for and all I need is a chance to prove that I can play. Now I'm getting that chance to put my foot in the door, and it won't be long until I'm all the way in."

Now on the verge of donning a NFL uniform for the Miami Dolphins, Soi wanted everyone to know that he will always wear the blue and white jersey of BYU on his heart.

"I don't even care that I never played one down at BYU, and if anyone asked me I'll just tell them that I was a BYU Cougar. To me, BYU is in the same category as a USC or a Nebraska, but those schools are not my church school. I love the gospel and the church and this is what that football team is based around. When I was trying to get my AA degree and would go to BYU and talk to Coach Mendenhall about my situation, he would talk to me about my spiritual life and cared for me as if I was a Cougar or did play for him.

"These coaches pretty much looked at me as a Cougar even though I never enrolled or played for them. My name may never have been on the back of a BYU jersey, but I feel like my name was always on the hearts of these coaches. So when anyone ever asks me what I am, I'm just going to tell them, ‘I'm a BYU Cougar.' If they go and look through my actual history, then I guess I'll have to just explain my whole situation.

"That's just how much respect I have for this coaching staff for never giving up on me, for encouraging me to not give up on myself and for being the backbone for changing my life. I will always be a Cougar because that's how much respect I have for this football team and this program. I'll bleed blue for the rest of my life."

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