PROVO — Scholarship offers to play college football usually are the result of countless hours of practice and workouts, which often begin at an early age. Then there's the story of BYU offensive line commit Rocky Aitogi, who didn't begin playing football until the ripe age of 22.
Nine games at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College is all the playing experience the 6-foot-7, 345-pound Hawaii native has on his résumé, but that didn't keep the recruiters away. His first FBS offer came just five games into his playing career.
Aitogo is set to arrive in Provo in December, where he plans to spend his final two years of college eligibility.
"It's a crazy story and it's honestly really hard to tell it fully," Aitogi told the Deseret News. "I've been so fortunate to be where I'm at with the opportunities ahead of me. It's just been a crazy process and I'm just so happy to have the chance now to play at a school like BYU."
Perhaps the best place to begin Aitogi's story is at Snow College, where he planned to play basketball, not football. Soon after arriving in Ephraim, however, Aitogi decided to give football a try.
But family issues derailed his plans.
"My mother developed skin cancer and I immediately started planning for the worst," Aitogi said. "It was a scary time — not for me so much, but for my younger siblings. With the youngest being just 4 years old and then with two 7-year-old twins along with my other sister who was 13 at the time, I felt like I needed to start thinking of having to provide immediately for all of them."
Aitogi left for Alaska, where his family was living at the time, to take on whatever jobs he could find until his mother's health improved.
That phase included getting married and taking a job as head of security for rapper Lil Pump, the latter taking him all over the country and around the world. Although Aitogi didn't harbor aspirations of returning to the football field, there were those around him who convinced him otherwise.
"Everywhere I went and everyone I talked to honestly couldn't believe I didn't play football," he said. "I guess being a big Polynesian guy has a lot to do with that, but seriously, everybody told me I was crazy not to play football. So, after so many people told me all of that I started to believe it and decided to give it another go."
But giving it another go wasn't so easy.
"Being on the road so much doesn't lead to healthy eating," he said. "Lil Pump's favorite rotation was pretty much Wing Stop, Popeyes and Domino's Pizza, and then sometimes McDonald's. So being already big and eating just that — I just got out of shape being a big Polynesian guy who never turns down any kind of food."
In addition to being out of shape, there was one other issue: He had never actually played the game. Such might be a problem for many, but given Aitogi's natural desire and work ethic, he proved a fast learner.
"Honestly? I just started watching YouTube videos about how to play offensive line," Aitogi said. "So yeah, I'm a YouTube learner and I'd just learn how to take sets and just go from there, but I also had my buddy Zack Williams helping me a ton, too."
Williams, a former sixth-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers, had his career cut short due to injury.
"I consider him family," Aitogi said of Williams. "He's always been encouraging me and letting me know what it takes and just about everything. I wouldn't have been able to play football without Zack helping me and encouraging me every step along the way."
Aitogi's first offer came from Delaware State, and later he accepted an offer to play at Arizona. All that changed once he was contacted by new BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos.
"He reached out to me and it felt like we were real close almost immediately," Aitogi said. "What I liked about Coach Mateos is he'd focus on everything that was wrong with me. He was straight up, focusing on the negative, which was really different, but something I really appreciated.
"Usually everyone just tells me how great I am, but I really love how Coach is honest and focused on getting me right to be the best I can be. I didn't like it at first, but after reflecting on it I just felt hungry to get going and work with him."
Aitogi also found great unity within the BYU team.
"Everything just fits at BYU," he said. "I can really relate to the players and the goals everyone has there. I have friends and family already there, along with my wife, so yeah, it just felt right, and I can't wait to learn and take this next step in my crazy journey."