Aaron Whitehead remembers the moment well when his former tight end burst onto the college football scene during the opening week of the 2021 season.
When Cam Latu, a converted defensive end, caught his first career touchdown for Alabama in Week 1 against Miami, Whitehead said the chime of his text inbox immediately started going off — and then just kept buzzing as those in the Olympus community reached out to Latu’s former high school coach to share in the excitement.
For three years Latu had been stuck deep on the depth chart at Alabama — the first at defensive end and the last two at tight end. For him to finally make an impact was a special moment for those watching back in his hometown.
“I’m so pleased to see what he’s accomplished. All the success he’s had is the result of what he’s set his mind to, this is all him. We’re 100% proud of him,” said Whitehead.
For most sports fans in Utah, with Latu thousands of miles away in the SEC and only sniffing the field on special teams, he was essentially out of sight and out of mind. Whitehead said that wasn’t the sentiment in the Holladay community.
“He has an impact on this community still, the kids here at Olympus look up to him still,” said Whitehead, who has been the head coach at Olympus High School for 11 years.
Latu’s impact at Alabama didn’t stop after Week 1, either. He’s emerged as a legit red zone target for Crimson Tide this year as he’s caught 21 passes for 308 yards and seven touchdowns from Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
Three touchdowns. Three different receivers.— Kendell Hollowell (@KHollowell_) December 31, 2021
Bryce Young hits Cameron Latu for the TD. pic.twitter.com/2mVrhP7GMl
He’ll have a chance to add to those numbers this Monday as Latu’s Alabama squad squares off against Georgia in the college football national championship game.
In Alabama’s semifinal win over Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve, Latu caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that effectively put the game out of reach, with the Tide eventually winning 27-6.
Whitehead isn’t 100% sure, but he believes if Alabama wins on Monday that Latu would be the first former Olympus player to win a football national championship.
Ben Bywater, his former Olympus teammate, will certainly be among those watching as he tunes in from his Provo apartment.
“We text back and forth all the time and I talked to him earlier this week. The way Cam kind of carries himself he’s confident going into the game,” said Bywater, who just finished up a strong freshman season in his own right at BYU.
Bywater says it’s been surreal this season to see his former high school teammate, the one with the “Godzilla quads,” reach such a high-level of success, but one that isn’t surprising.
“The thing about Cam is he’s matured and grown so much just from what I’ve seen. Back when we were in high school to who he is now, he’s just rock solid, works hards, understands the process, understands what Nick Saban is trying to do,” said Bywater.
“He deserves everything that’s coming his way, he’s gone through a lot of adversity in his life that people don’t know about it. For him to be on this stage I could not be happier for him.”
The former carpool buddies for football and rugby practice talked a lot this past offseason as they helped keep each other motivated and focused on their goals.
For Latu, he hadn’t caught a pass in two years after switching to tight end. For Bywater, he went into the 2021 season with a little uncertainty after suffering a season-ending injury early in the 2020 season.
“We talked a lot last offseason just about being patient, but you’ve got to be confident. College football is very mental, it’s a lot about the details behind the scenes. It’s about doing things that others aren’t,” said Bywater.
For Latu, it would’ve been easy for him to transfer from Alabama at any point the past couple years. Instead, he trusted the vision the Alabama coaching staff saw in him when they asked him to change from defensive end to tight end after appearing briefly in just two games during his freshman season in 2018.
Special teams was how he contributed in 2019 and 2020, but he did start to get some offensive snaps at tight end periodically during the 2020 season even though he never caught a pass. Those reps served as motivation heading into the 2021 season that he was on the cusp of larger contributions.
“It was an ideal environment for Cam to thrive. There’s a level of expectation at Alabama and he’s absolutely risen to that level,” said Whitehead.
When Whitehead first learned about Alabama’s plan to switch Latu’s positions, he quickly thought of Latu’s huge hands and figured it was bound to work. Latu occasionally played some tight end at Olympus, and in fact during his senior season he caught 10 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns was a 72-yarder in a 45-42 win at West. Whitehead said it was an eye-opening moment for everyone in attendance.
“I think for many people at the game they saw for the first time what a D1 athlete looked like as he was sprinting down the field wide open with that speed and that size compared to everyone else on the field,” said Whitehead.
They didn’t know it at the time, but they were likely watching a future NFL player as well. Even thought Latu still has another year of eligibility at Alabama, he’s emerged as an NFL prospect this season. The Athletic recently mentioned his name in an article highlighting all the NFL Draft prospects who will be playing in Monday’s national championship.
Despite all of the notoriety and success that’s come Latu’s way this season, one of his best buddies from high school said it hasn’t changed him.
“He is still grounded, still humbled,” Bywater said. “Kid’s a baller. He’s the same dude.”