When big 6-foot-5-inch, 315-pound Solomone “Solo” Kafu started playing football at Rio Linda High School, he knew exactly where he wanted to go and set his sights on attaining that goal early.
“Ever since I was a freshman in high school I wanted to go play football at BYU,” said Kafu. “I just knew that was going to be the best place for me and felt it would be a real blessing and a privilege for me to go there. I just felt that if I wanted to go farther with my education after high school that I needed to go there. I also wanted to serve a mission and I saw how other schools felt that missions hurt their team, so I felt that going to BYU would also be a plus for me if I were able to play football there.”
Rio Linda High School is a small school on the fringes of Sacramento and doesn’t receive much attention from college recruiters. So when BYU began recruiting Kafu, he not only saw how his goals as a freshman player were beginning to unfold, but he also became the first player in his high school to receive a Division I scholarship offer.
“My high school is really small and it isn’t an elite school where recruits come from,” Kafu said. “I felt I had to work hard because of that to try and get my name out there. I felt that my chances of going to BYU [were] going to be really rare because my high school didn’t get a lot of attention and wasn’t seem much by colleges. Most of the kids that come out of my school end up at the [junior colleges] or don’t even go on to play football.
“When I was able to talk with Coach Doman, I knew that this was my opportunity that I’ve been thinking about since I was a freshman. I knew this was my opportunity and I would be able to continue going to school and play football. I knew that I would also be able to go on a mission. I knew BYU was the place for me. I’m the first one to come out of my high school to go Division I.”
The Sacramento area has a decent-sized Tongan community. Most of the Tongan kids that play football attend a better-known school in Sacramento called Grant Union High School. Kafu knows quite a few Tongan kids that attended there and even some that BYU fans are familiar with.
“I know Tuha Lahi and some of the Faupulas that played for BYU,” said Kafu. “When I was a little kid, my dad told me that he heard Tuha Lahi played for BYU and that was really cool to me. That’s when I wanted to play for BYU too. They all used to be in my ward but moved out. Christian Tupou was in my ward but he went to USC. I’ve known Christian since we were little kids.
“He had a different mindset. He would always tell me that he wanted to go to the NFL, but I believe anyone can make it to the NFL from anywhere. It just depends on how hard you work, your desire and how talented you are. Sometimes going to a school like that means you have to fight for a spot every single day during practice. You may never see the field at some of those schools and your chance of playing is really low.”
With nose guard Eathyn Manumaleuna leaving on a mission to Oklahoma City after a successful true-freshman season, and Romney Fuga currently serving in Madagascar, the chance for Kafu to follow a long line of nose guards that competed for playing time could become a reality. This is especially true when you take a look at his physical qualities.
“I run a 5.2 in the forty and I bench 350 pounds,” said Kafu. “I also squat 525.”
Those are quite the stats for a high school senior whose family hails from the islands of Tonga. Few years ago, the Kafu family returned to Tonga and Kafu was able to visit with many of his relatives still living back on the island.
“My dad is from Fulaha and my mom is from Ateu, Va’vau,” said Kafu. “I went and stayed in Fulaha and stayed on the main island of Tongatapu. It was different than when I stayed in Kahua. I went out there in 2005 and I really enjoyed staying out there and visiting with my family. We basically went out there to visit our family … My dad told me there were a lot of places in Tonga but we mostly just stayed on the main island. I never got the chance to sail on the boat to Va’vau. That was something that I really missed out on.”
Switching gears back to America, Kafu is now focusing on high school, whether it’s being in the classroom or competing in athletics.
“Right now my goal is to finish up strong in high school,” Kafu said. “I want to also try and get my weight down to about 300 pounds before I get to BYU. I also want to get faster and stronger before I get there also. Right now I’m in track and field, so that should help. The season has barely started, so we’re doing a lot of conditioning right now. I’m competing in the shot put and the discus.”
This is the first year Kafu has become involved in his high school’s track and field team. For the last three years he played center for his basketball team, but decided to put that aside this year to focus on recruiting and to try his hand at a new sport.
As mentioned earlier, Kafu plans on serving a mission.
“I plan on playing one year and then serving my mission,” he said. “I plan on leaving and getting out to BYU during the first week of August, and I’ll be working out to get ready for the season.”