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Provo - Uona Kaveinga was supposed to be a BYU Cougar three years ago.
"It was frustrating," says BYU middle linebackers coach Paul Tidwell who was also the recruiting coordinator in 2008. "we felt like he should be here. We felt like he was the right kind of fit for BYU and he was a very good football player."
He originally gave a verbal commitment to BYU but on signing day he had a change of heart and committed to USC.
Kaveinga admits the decision he made as a 17-year old was immature.
"It was my hometown and I'm a California boy," Uona recalls. "It felt like the right thing to do."
The glitz and glamor of USC was too much to pass up. He spent two seasons as a Trojan playing alongside future NFL stars like Clay Matthews Jr., Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga. He was coached by Pete Carroll and former 49ers star linebacker Ken Norton Jr. It would have been a perfect situation for most college football players but for Uona something was missing.
"The football part was going good over there," Uona recalls. "It's just that the life off the field, the social life, it was not what I expected it to be. I felt like I was in need for a change and BYU was the place for me to be."
Kaveinga remembered the feelings he had when he visited BYU before signing day. After getting his release from USC, Uona got in touch with Bronco Mendenhall and asked if there was a place for him at BYU.
"That was very rewarding for us," says Tidwell. "We welcomed him with open arms."
"He loves football. He absolutely loves football. If you watch him on the sideline, how animated he is, any good play, no matter when it is in practice, he seems to see it all," Mendenhall said.
Transferring was not easy for Kaveinga. He had to sit out the 2010 season due to NCAA transfer rules. There wasn't a scholarship available for him so he had to walk-on and pay his own way. His days during the season were spent leading the scout team. It was difficult but the experience made him a better player.
"It was a very humbling experience," Kaveinga remembers. "There were times where I was frustrated and felt like I could help the team. But I learned a lot about this team. I bonded with the team. I met a lot of new people and I would never, ever, trade that experience for anything."
"He didn't go over on the scout team last year and just walk around and say I'm gonna put in my time," says Tidwell. "He went over there and led the scout team."
Uona's hard work and approach to the game caught the attention of Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
"The offensive staff every week last year told me 'Man, wait 'til you see Uona and you get him on your side'." says Mendenhall.
Now Uona has established himself as the likely starter at middle linebacker and he has become THE leader of the Cougar defense according to Bronco Mendenhall.
"He loves football. He absolutely loves football. If you watch him on the sideline, how animated he is, any good play, no matter when it is in practice, he seems to see it all," Mendenhall said. "I bet he's been studying (football) from the time he was in kindergarten. He's really smart and very intuitive. He comes off the field and sees things that a lot of times as coaches, and we've had a lot of training, that we just barely see. He loves it."
Uona's patience is about to pay off. On September 3rd, he will finally suit up and play a game for the Cougars when they open the season at Ole Miss. He can't wait for that day to come.
"I don't regret (choosing USC) because I came out of USC with a lot of experiences," says Uona. "I played with a lot of great players that are now in the NFL. I'm grateful for what I learned there but I'm also grateful and blessed for the opportunity that Coach Mendenhall has given me to be here."
He also can't wait to run out of the tunnel at LaVell Edwards stadium.
"The feeling you get in that stadium is a special feeling and it's gonna be a humbling experience to play with these guys for the next two years."
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