Forget he was offered his first scholarship as a freshman by the University of Utah, according to his head coach, and was the first local sophomore offered by BYU this year. Forget he started as a true freshman offensive lineman on a Timpview High School team that produces one or two top-caliber Division I offensive line recruits every year. Forget he’s only a 16-year-old sophomore (junior this season) and his coach compares him, at this stage of his game, to one of the best offensive linemen the school has ever produced.
What you cannot forget is Tui Crichton, an unassuming and humble 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pounder who runs a 5.0 in the forty and has a 3.4 GPA to boot, is more consumed – along with his elder siblings – with helping his widowed mother Sweet run the family restaurant while also actively involved in feeding the homeless, participating in community service projects and serving in church youth leadership positions.
Indeed, Crichton is not your typical budding gridiron star. While most young men with serious college football aspirations participate in numerous college-oriented summer camps during their high school years to gain recruiting exposure from nationally recognized coaches and programs, Crichton has intentionally never participated in any of them – which explain why few major college coaches outside Utah even know about him.
In fact, Crichton was not even listed on the national Scout.com recruiting database until Monday. He is still not listed on the Rivals.com national database.
But that is about to change.
Though Utah and BYU currently top Crichton’s favorites list, Timpview head coach Louis Wong confirmed that LSU and Oregon are already taking a hard look at him.
“Tui is a low-key kid,” said Wong. “He’s going to be a four-year starter. Utah offered him as a freshman. He doesn’t need all the attention, but now his time has come. I would compare him, with two years left down the road, to Matt Reynolds – probably the best of the Reynolds boys. Tui will be one I’ll recommend to play in the Army High School All American game in Texas [invitational for nationally elite prep seniors].”
(Matt Reynolds returned several months ago from his LDS mission and joins elder brother Dallas, a freshman offensive lineman starter last season at BYU. Meanwhile, younger sibling Houston Reynolds, a 2007 BYU signee, plans to play for the Cougars after his mission).
Coach Wong noted that “[Tui] spends a lot of time in the community helping people. He’s a very balanced kid. He’s not into the big hype. He’s a humble kid. Sweet’s done a good job with him. He’s started the last two years on the o-line, but he’ll play both o-line and d-line for us this year. His intangibles are that he has excellent feet and knows when to be aggressive.”
Crichton doesn’t even keep track of his on-the-field stats.
“You have to ask my coach for that,” said Crichton. “I don’t keep track of it.”
Jim Stefani, who identifies future college football stars before their junior seasons for university programs, wrote this of Tui: “Crichton was a rare freshman starter for Timpview and has followed that up with an outstanding sophomore campaign. Plays on a talent-laden OL with a couple of upperclassmen whom are D-I prospects, but at the end of the day he could develop into the best of the bunch. He has nice size, excellent strength and is fast enough to pull.”
Long before he started organized football as a seventh grader, his father Al, a diehard BYU fan, frequently took Crichton and his siblings to watch Cougar games. Unfortunately, his father passed away from cancer in 2002, leaving behind his wife, Sweet, and four children – daughter Omai (now 24), and sons Will (23), Tama (19) and Tui (16) – to run their long-established popular Provo eatery, Sweet’s Luau Restaurant, by themselves.
Coach Wong noted that BYU coaches became keenly aware of Crichton’s stellar playmaking abilities as they actively recruited his OL teammates.
“They came to watch Houston and they noticed Tui playing next to him,” said Wong. “We graded [Crichton] percentage-wise and he graded consistently in the mid-90s, with our best players.”
Aware that Cougar coaches, especially his uncle Robert Anae (BYU offensive coordinator), were interested in recruiting him to the Provo school, it was no surprise when he received an invitation to tour the campus on an unofficial visit several months ago in May.
“They invited me to the campus and all the coaches were really nice,” said Crichton. “I had my mom with me. They told us all about the program and I like that there’s no other place in the country like this place. Coach Mendenhall then took us into his office with Coach Anae and Coach Reynolds. We just talked about a lot of things. Coach Mendenhall then offered me a scholarship and asked me how I felt about it.
“My mom started crying. I was really excited and humbled that they would offer me a scholarship at such a young age. I hadn’t even finished my sophomore year. I told them I really liked the school and the BYU football program because I grew up watching games with my dad.
“Coach Mendenhall said he really wanted me to come to the school and hopes I make the best decision for me. I know mom was really excited for me. I’m just really blessed for them to do that for me.”
Crichton continued: “The BYU coaches said they were impressed with how mature I was at such a young age and they liked the way I played. I always liked BYU growing up, but I was also a big [USC] Trojan and Miami fan. My dad passed away five years ago, but I’m pretty sure if he was still alive, he’d want me to go to BYU.”
With two years of high school football remaining, Crichton said he was in no hurry to commit.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Crichton. “I think I’m going to wait a little bit, but if I were to commit to BYU, I’d feel comfortable with my decision. I like Coach Mendenhall a lot as a coach and as a person. What he’s done with the program is really outstanding. I could definitely see myself at BYU.”
Crichton joked that “Mom would like me to go to BYU so I could still help her out at the restaurant, but my coach thinks I should try an out-of-state college and experience something new. To tell you the truth, I’d like to try an out-of-state university and do something different.”
Crichton’s mother recalls the moment vividly when Coach Mendenhall offered her son a BYU scholarship.
“I started crying,” Sweet said. “I wish his father was here to see that. Tui’s got a big body, but he’s really just a boy to me. I was really proud of him.”
Sweet added: “He’s a really good boy. I’ve always tried to instill in him the two most important things: to be obedient and to be humble. I say, ‘Son, this is the kind of thing [heavy recruiting by multiple colleges] that can quickly turn a good person and take them in the wrong way.’ Ever since he was young, he’s been a born leader. He’s going to be somebody.”
Sweet makes no bones about where she wants her son to play.
“There’s no greater institution than BYU that will keep him in line Church-wise and academically,” Sweet said. “BYU is where his dad always wanted him to go. If he goes there, it would fulfill his dad’s dream.”
Sweet remarked that the BYU coaches were very impressed with her son’s academic record.
“They showed us the academic wall at BYU with all the athletes who graduated with [a] 3.0 GPA and above,” said Sweet. “They said to Tui, ‘We hope you’ll be in this section.’”
While her desires are clear, Sweet said, “I’m going to leave [the college decision] up to Tui. I told him to pray about it and ask the Lord to help him. Big colleges will come with their scholarships and promises, but it’s important to choose a college to help you [not only] academically, but also spiritually.
“Church-wise, [Tui] is very active and he does a lot with feeding the homeless. He also helps kids not doing good in school. He’s a leader in his age group and kids always look up to him.
In a somber moment, Sweet recalled the example of her husband Al to his children.
“We came here from Hawaii and Al couldn’t find a job he liked, so we started a Polynesian restaurant 10 years ago because Al wanted to teach his kids how to work,” said Sweet. “He was a good father and a good example. If I were to die tomorrow, they would know how to take care of themselves. Tui has been working in the restaurant since he was a young kid. Only me and the kids work in the business, except when we have big parties. I told Tui, ‘I hope you do good and be a good person. You don’t have a father. All you got is me, your brothers and sister.’”
However, as deep as the Crichton family roots to BYU are, there are perhaps even stronger familial loyalties that could easily sway him to the University of Utah because of a longstanding and special relationship with the Whittingham family.
“After Al died,” Sweet recounted, “Tui lost interest in sports and Fred Whittingham [Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham’s father] came and asked if Tui could play on his youth team before he died. He really taught him a lot and took him under his wing when he was in the seventh grade. Every time they (the Whittingham family) have a big party, they always invite us and also have parties at our restaurant. They are just like a part of our family.
Crichton recalled that Fred Whittingham, a former BYU and Los Angeles Rams assistant, “was my first coach. He was outgoing and very energetic for an old man. I really respected him and he was the reason I played football for the first time. I know the whole family.”
Crichton added that Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, whom he fondly refers to as “Coach Kyle,” has always been supportive of him and his family and doesn’t talk about football at family affairs. However, he invited and escorted Crichton on a tour of the Utah facilities during his freshman year.
Asked if he were to make a tough choice today between Utah and BYU with differing and divided loyalties, Crichton, after several minutes of thought, responded, “I would choose BYU because Kyle Whittingham went to BYU for one thing, and I really like the atmosphere there.”
When he’s not working at Sweet’s, Crichton said he likes to feed the homeless.
“We open the restaurant on special days and feed them for free,” Sweet said. “Me and my friends also like to cut people’s yard for free and do community service [by] cleaning up the parks.”
While most other coveted high school football prospects eagerly search out opportunities to gain recruiting exposure to the best possible Division I colleges, Tui Crichton is hard at work throughout the year after football obligations – and fulltime in the summer – helping his mom and siblings support the family literally one Polynesian plate lunch at a time.