Sete Aulai came to BYU from Carson City, California as a junior college transfer and member of the 2005 recruiting class. He was a 6-foot-1-inch, 297-pound guard – and sometimes fullback – and was a JC Athletic Bureau first-team All-American. The Cougars were looking to bounce back from a string of losing seasons, and Aulai figured to be a part of that effort. After Aulai redshirted during his first year with the Cougars, BYU finished with an 11-2 record in his junior and senior seasons. From that time on, Aulai's world would change drastically.
"After my senior season where we beat UCLA, I graduated the following April with a degree in sociology," said Aulai, who played both guard and center for the Cougars. "From there I went looking for work and got a job at a youth facility called Slate Canyon, and then from there I switched over to Provo Canyon, which is pretty much the same thing."
Although he wasn't a member of the LDS faith, Aulai attended a singles ward with a few of his teammates, viewing it as a social function rather than a spiritual one. Over time that began to change.
"After that I kind of developed a small testimony and it just started to grow from there … I went to church with Rey [Feinga], Fui [Vakapuna] and Manase [Tonga], but it was more just to go to church. After going for a while with them, I really started to investigate the Church. I was like, 'Alright, let’s see what the LDS faith is really about.'"
At BYU Aulai roomed with a Cougar walk-on defensive tackle from San Bernardino by the name of Mark Fitu, who wasn't on the team very long due to injury. Fitu invited him to attend the priesthood session of General Conference.
"It all started with President Hinckley," Aulai recalled. "I went to his last priesthood session before he passed away … [Fitu] was going and got me an extra ticket, and I really enjoyed that last priesthood session and will always remember that last talk he gave that day. The topic was anger, and I kid you not, I thought he was talking directly to me because I have a short temper. I'm pretty sure people remember that out on the football field."
Soon, Aulai became more involved with the Church.
"Then, and this is kind of funny, I became a home teacher and I wasn't even a member of the Church," said Aulai with a laugh. "Can you believe that? I was in this single student ward at BYU, the 136th ward. I was going there for a little bit and they asked me if I wanted to be a home teacher, and I was like, 'What the heck is a home teacher?' After they told me about it I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' So I was a home teacher for a little while, and after doing all that and going to church and doing everything that the Church teaches, like read and pray and all that, something happened on July 12th, 2008."
That was the day that Aulai was baptized into the Church.
"My uncle Tupule Poloa, who was in the bishopric up here in Salt Lake City, is the one that baptized me,” said Aulai. “I didn't do it because of some girl or for my friends. I did it because I wanted to, and I'm not going to lie, there were so many people that attended my baptism. It was like a stake conference because that's how many people were there. There were so many players from the team that was there, all the coaches were there and even Tom Holmoe was there. All the people from my singles ward was there, and they had to open up the overflow for the gym up because there was so many people there.”
Having his BYU coaches there for his baptism was a special experience for Aulai.
"One thing I remember was Coach Tidwell was so happy to see that I was baptized that he was lost for words," Aulai recalled. "He didn't say much, but you could just see it in his face, and Coach Reynolds was there and he so happy too. All the coaches were just so happy. They really didn't say much but you could see it on their faces. Just by the look on their faces, that said everything. Coach Kaufusi never would have thought that day would come, but things happen for a reason.
"You know, looking back from the time I played football at El Camino Junior College to now, my life has changed drastically. There has been such a change with me and I'm pretty sure you can tell from when you used to talk to me back then to when you talk to me now. Even Coach Kaufusi has seen the change in me. He said it's night and day from the Sete that first came to BYU to the Sete now after BYU. He said it's night and day, and I saw the change too."
Aulai's life would change even more following his baptism. He met a girl from Washington, and the two were sealed in the Seattle temple last November.
"I married a palagi [Caucasian] girl from Seattle name Megan Smart. She's not only smart but beautiful," Aulai said with a laugh.
In addition to those major changes in his life, Aulai has also recently taken on a new career.
"This past December I got hired on at the West Valley Police Department," Aulai said. "That's what I do now, I'm a police officer for the city of West Valley. I just finished going through the police academy [about a month ago] and I'm going through a little program in West Valley called the FTO, and then I'll be ready to go. By this August I'll be on my own."
Looking back, Aulai sees the subtle influences that directed him towards the life he now lives.
"You know, there was this Samoan kid from L.A. who had overcome his old ways, and even my parents have seen the change in me," Aulai said. "They've see how my life has changed and the man that I've become, and it's because of my experiences at BYU and the gospel. It's had such an influence on me and even before I was baptized, the influence of the gospel had an influence on me because of the example of the players on the team. I saw these really good football players who were tough and dominated on the field but were return missionaries. Those off-the-field experiences had an effect on my life.
"You know, I truly believe there was a greater reason why I came to BYU than just playing football. At the time when I first committed to play football at BYU I didn't see it, but now I do. I have no doubt in my mind that someone influenced me to come to BYU because of that greater reason. I am truly lucky that I've had the opportunity to come here. When Bronco [Mendenhall] offered me that scholarship, there is no doubt in my mind that I was supposed to come here. I knew BYU was an LDS college, but that didn't matter to me. Something inside me told me that I needed to come here, and so when Bronco offered me that scholarship I committed. When someone says there is more to BYU than football, I know that's true. I didn't go on to the NFL, but there was something else in store for me and that's the reason why I feel I was supposed to go to BYU. Looking back, it's pretty clear what those reasons were and I'm blessed and grateful for that more than I could ever say."