PROVO — BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki has spoken openly and even enthusiastically of how his wife, Alyssa, has saved him from his early troubles at BYU and with life in general. But turns out Alyssa isn't the only family that has helped him through hard times.
Cougar wide receiver Aleva Hifo doesn't share the same last name as Takitaki, although, according to both players, they consider one another brothers, and for good reason.
Although the two lived about an hour away from one another, Takitaki found himself moving in with the Hifo family just prior to his sophomore year in high school due to some difficult circumstances.
"His dad was actually a high school football coach, so by my sophomore year I moved in with them to pursue football, stay out of trouble, and things like that," Takitaki, who is from Fontana, California, said. "His dad is basically another father-figure to me, and Aleva is like a brother to me."
The father's name is Petelo Hifo, and he worked as an assistant football coach at Heritage High School in Menifee, California. Through several visits to BYU's summer camps, Takitaki became familar with the program, and although he liked what it had to offer, it was a certain directive made by Patelo that influenced his eventual signing with the program, despite having multiple offers from Pac-12 programs.
"My dad basically told him to sign with BYU, and that's why it happened," Aleva said. "He grew to really trust my father and respected him, and Sione just wants to play. He's not into all the big stuff and what not. He just wanted to play, so when my dad told him to sign with BYU, he was okay with it."
Takitaki also cites his mother, Fissipeau, for helping him make the decision to sign with a program that wasn't exactly the smoothest of fits for him out of high school.
"They're real religous people, so anything with the (LDS) religion is true, so BYU was obviously the main choice for me," Takitaki said. "I wanted to go somewhere else, but I'm obviously grateful. I'm happy I'm here."
Turns out getting to BYU isn't even half the battle, as Takitaki struggled mightily with the program requirements, leaving some to think elsewhere was the better destination.
"BYU isn't an easy place for a guy like Sione, and what he's used to," Aleva said. "It wasn't easy for me, at first, but compared with Sione, I'm the biggest angel ever. But he fought it out, and we're all real proud of him."
After those initial struggles, Takitaki has hit his stride for what is his final season at BYU, along with Aleva, who is currently tied for the team lead in receptions on the year (18.) It's been a tough journey for both players, but both are grateful it's turned out as it has.
"It's been great, and a lot of hard work and I still have a lot to work on," Aleva, who is a junior, said. "But it's been great for me and it's been truly great to watch how Sione has progressed. He's so different from the guy I grew up with and the guy who first came to BYU. His marriage helped him a ton, and I like to think we did, too, but it's great seeing how he is now."
Takitaki's senior year playing hasn't been perfect by any means, as is the case for the 3-3 Cougar football team. Injuries have seen the 6-foot-2, 230-pound converted defensive end played in different roles as the defense deals with injuries and other struggles, although his personal experience off the field is helping him on the field.
"This is just another tough time for BYU, but we have six more games and we can make this a successful season or it can be a downhill season," Takitaki said. "So we've got to give it our all."