Joape Pela is a 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound defensive tackle prospect from Foothill Junior College. While growing up Pela was the self-described “Big Man on Campus” and admittedly got a big head, not focusing on what was important throughout his high school years at Mountain View High School in California.
“I wasn’t that smart in high school, I just messed around, partied too much and I paid for it," explained Pela. “I thought I was all that and I could do whatever I wanted and I’d be fine, so I graduated late and I wasn’t able to qualify for Division I football, although I was certainly good enough to play wherever I wanted out of high school.”
Pela got the usual letters, phone calls and visits from coaches early on during the recruiting process. Schools such as BYU, UCLA, Oregon and Boise State were among those showing interest, but everyone soon backed off of him when it was learned that he’d have no chance to qualify.
“That was a tough thing for me and definitely opened my eyes," said Pela. “All I had to do was graduate and get decent grades and I could have gone wherever I wanted out of high school, but I just screwed around and it didn’t happen.”
Like most top-flight non-qualifiers, Pela looked to start up at junior college and hopefully play Division I football afterwards. But unlike most junior college athletes, Pela wasn’t content to spend the normal two years getting his degree and subsequently using up at least two years of his eligibility.
Pela hit the books hard from day one at Foothill Junior College and has not let up. He is now eligible to transfer to a Division I program after just one year of junior college play.
“I’ve taken at least 18 credit hours since I first got here," said Pela. “I had two semesters where I took 20 hours because even though I love Foothill, this isn’t where I want to be. I’m a Division I player and I wanted to get to Division I football as fast as I possibly could.”
Mission accomplished, as Pela is set to graduate early and have four years to play three at whatever Division I program he chooses to transfer to. For Pela it’s been a busy year, but one that he’s reaping the benefits from now that he has many offers to choose from upon his graduation.
“It struck me out of high school that this is for real," said Pela. “Screwing around was over. I needed to get going and I wanted to get going as fast as I possibly could. Now I have some good offers and things are going to work out. It’s hectic, but I’m very glad that I’ve made the decisions to put me where I’m at now and make up for all that lost time in high school.”
Pela’s would-be suitors include BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, Louisville and Houston. He visited BYU this past week and puts BYU on top of his list along with Utah, Oregon and Arizona State.
Pela enjoyed his visit and could definitely see himself transferring to BYU by the end of the month.
“I felt comfortable there," noted Pela about BYU. “I spent a lot of time with their defensive line coach [Steve] Kaufusi and I really liked him. He’s a very down-to-earth type of guy and someone I’d love to learn from. He’d make me a better player, I know that. I could definitely see myself at BYU.”
Pela is LDS and notes that he is certainly drawn to BYU because of that.
“I’m not into partying anymore. That’s done, in the past," said Pela. “BYU certainly is a place where I could continue to concentrate on what is important, which is not only growing as a football player, but as a person and getting a good education.”
Pela plans on pursuing a degree in kinesiology, and if his class work at Foothill is any indication, Pela should be earning that degree sooner rather than later.
Pela also was made aware of the openings BYU has at the nose tackle position this coming season, and that was certainly something he liked when learning more about BYU.
“I want to play," said Pela. “Just like anyone else, I want to play. I don’t want to use my redshirt year. It was explained to me that I’d have a chance to compete and start right away at BYU, and that’s what you want.”
Pela certainly can play and compete with the best around, which is why so many schools are scrambling for his services at this relatively inopportune time for most schools to allocate a scholarship. So what type of player is Pela?
“I just love to hit, I really love to hit guys and dominate them," explained Pela. “I don’t know what else to say. That’s what I love about football and that is what I’m good at.”
A quick view of Pela’s junior college film shows a player that is lightning quick off the line and that can penetrate an offensive line and demand a double-team, which is an essential attribute for any Division I nose guard or defensive tackle.
Pela also made a visit to the Houston Cougars and liked what they had to offer and will certainly factor them into his final decision. For right now, Pela is just trying to make some last-minute visits to the schools that are pursuing him.
“Louisville wants me to visit this weekend and I might go there, but Oregon and Arizona State are trying to work something out, so we’ll just see what happens," explained Pela. “I understand that it’s hard fitting me in so fast and I know that if I would have waited a year that I could pretty much play wherever I wanted, but I like my options right now. It’s enough for me and playing right away after a year is more important than having more options.
“It’s been a hectic and trying time for me here of late. My father passed away a couple of weeks ago and that was a very tough thing for me. It’s tough and sometimes I wish I could have a little more time, but I know that I’m on the right track and all this is really going to pay off if I just keep on going. I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.”
Pela noted that he could be making his final decision as early as this weekend, but that it won’t be any later than the end of the month. TBS will certainly keep in touch with Pela and report on any developments as they break.