Nearly six years ago, early on in the first game of his junior season at Desert Hills High in St. George, Utah, Nephi Sewell suffered a serious neck injury while making a tackle on a wide receiver. 

Sewell, who was only 16 at the time, was on the turf for a while, unable to stand up. He eventually walked off the field, and it was believed that he had sustained a concussion.

But the pain in his neck intensified and by the start of the second half, he was taken to the hospital.

One day later, Sewell underwent surgery to fuse the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. 

Sewell made a remarkable recovery and played in 23 games for the University of Nevada from 2017-18 before transferring to Utah in 2019 as a walk-on. Eventually, he earned a scholarship and was moved from safety to linebacker

‘I’m not complaining’: Utah’s Nephi Sewell latest in a line of Ute defenders to move from safety to linebacker

After battling back from that neck injury, Sewell, who was born in American Samoa and moved to the United States in 2012, is hoping to be taken in this weekend’s NFL draft

“It’s definitely a surreal feeling. I’m blessed to be in the position I am today,” Sewell said, reflecting on his journey. “I was cleared to go and the process to recovery was supposed to be a year. I was able to cut it by three months. Once I got cleared, and I got my first hit, I was feeling good. Turns out my story has continued to go. I’m out here in front of scouts and everyone. It’s a dream and I’m glad to be living that dream and making the best of it.”

Last season, Sewell recorded 89 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss. He also had a forced fumble and an interception. Sewell also participated in the NFL scouting combine in March.

It’s a fantasy football weekend for the Sewell family with high school, college and NFL games all on tap

Sewell’s brother, Penei, an offensive tackle, played at Oregon and was drafted seventh overall by the Detroit Lions last year.  

What advice did Penei give to Nephi in terms of preparing for the NFL draft? 

“He said to tell (teams) what you know,” Nephi said. “During a lot of the interviews I think a lot of people were impressed because of how much I knew about the defense, not only my position, but knowing what (everyone) else’s position is doing. He told me to keep a level head and not get too high or too low. You never know who’s actually interested.”

Sewell said he’s met with all 32 NFL teams during the pre-draft process. 

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What does he have to offer a franchise?

“I’m a hard worker. I’m disciplined. I’m accountable and you don’t have to worry about me off the field,” he said. “I’ll always come in with an attitude of gratitude. It’s not every day that you can live your dreams. I’m going to be grateful every day and have a mindset that hopefully can … just brighten everyone’s day.”

Sewell has already demonstrated resilience in his life. He’s simply looking for an opportunity to prove himself at the next level.

“Regardless of what happens,” he said, “I hope to make the 53-man roster, regardless if I’m drafted or not drafted.”

Former University of Utah football player Nephi Sewell catches a pass during Utah’s pro day at the Spence & Cleone Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
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