On the eastern side of the main island of Tongatapu lies a village called Houma. Houma is where the Vakalahi family hails from, and although the village may be small, there isn’t anything tiny about one of its sons that have chosen to play football for BYU. Even the name Vakalahi, which means “big boat” in the Tongan language, suggest something big.
“Yeah, I’m just excited to get out there to Provo,” said big Texas lineman Fono Vakalahi. “I really can’t wait to get out there and into the real world.”
Now Provo may not typically be referred to as “the real world,” but you get the picture. Vakalahi is simply excited to get out of College Station and into playing big-time college football. Nearby Texas A&M, where his father Mosese Vakalahi is an academics advisor for the Aggie program, didn’t recruit Fono that much. At least, that was the case until he committed to BYU and things changed, but by that time it was to late for the Aggies.
“I think they kind of sluffed on me because I was a hometown kid and they didn’t really show any interest in me,” Vakalahi said. “I think they just kind of expected me to go there, but as soon as I committed to BYU, then things changed. As soon as I signed with BYU it was like, ‘Oh crap! What are you doing?’ I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for me at BYU and I’m excited to get out there and get going.”
At the high school level, Vakalahi has played multiple positions. He’s played tackle and center but most recently guard for Bryan High School. BYU’s coaches have talked to him about what position they would like him to play.
“They’ve been saying that they’ve been thinking of me playing as a center,” said Vakalahi. “It really just depends on where they need me ... I could play guard there as well and I’ve played every position on the offensive line, but the center position is a position that is the most important because you have to know a lot to play there. I think that’s perfect for me.”
Vakalahi currently has mission plans but hasn’t decided on when he will leave.
“I was thinking of trying to put in my papers first and leave on a mission before enrolling at BYU,” Vakalahi said. “That way I can come back and redshirt for a year and have four years to play. I haven’t really decided yet, but that is what I was thinking about doing. If not, then I’ll go to BYU for a year and then leave on my mission.”
So where would Vakalahi like to serve? Maybe the big lineman would like to go back to his family roots and serve in Tonga?
“I want to go anywhere outside the United States,” said Vakalahi. “I want to go to a foreign country and learn a new language. I think it would be great to learn a language like Chinese or Japanese. I would like to learn either of those languages on my mission.”
In the meantime, Vakalahi is hitting the weights and training with a friend that signed with West Texas A&M. Vakalahi has some strength to go with his size.
“Yeah, I’ve been lifting weights quite a bit,” he said. “Me and a friend of mine go together to help each other out. The last time I maxed out I benched 380 pounds. The last time I did my squat I was able to do 485.”
Vakalahi is about 15-to-20 pounds shy of benching 400 pounds and squatting 505 pounds as a freshman offensive lineman at BYU. It’s a goal the big Tongan lineman will surly reach in time.
Along with weight training, Vakalahi is also competing in track and field and has his first big track meet this weekend.
“Things are going pretty good,” Vakalahi said. “We’ve just been practicing and we have our first meet this weekend, so I’m just really excited for that to come up.”
Track and field is another way for Vakalahi to demonstrate his strength.
“I wish they had the hammer throw,” said Vakalahi with a laugh. “I’m competing in both the discus and the shot put this year. I made it to state last year but I ended up skipping out on it to go to my prom. I think this year I have a pretty good chance to take state because a lot of the guys that beat me last year were seniors, so I think I have a really good chance of taking it this year.”
Aside from being able to compete in the hammer throw, Vakalahi also wishes he could wrestle. However, his size has become an issue in that event.
“I still go to wrestling, but I’m too heavy to compete,” Vakalahi said. “I still go out there and support the guys though and go out for the workouts and stuff. I’m about 325 pounds at 6’4” right now.”
When Vakalahi gets to BYU, he plans on putting his strength and all of his experiences in the various sports he’s competed in to good use. Until then, he’s just one big Tongan lineman ready to get to Provo and get to work.
“Yeah, I’m just ready and so excited,” he said. “I can’t say it enough, but I’m ready to get going. BYU is going to be a great experience for me and I wish I could come out a little early rather than wait ‘til August. Yup, just excited to get out into the real world I guess.”