Editor’s note: This story is the second in a two-part series. Read part one to learn more.

Name, image and likeness issues were part of a congressional hearing this past week. NIL is a monster set loose on college sports. Timpview senior Siale Esera knows all about it. He’s been hip deep in recruiting pitches for three years.

While most big recruits signed in December and February in the class of 2023, in January, many were in Honolulu.

“You know, money, money, money, can play tricks on you if it changes your goals, but if you have your head on straight and keep sight of your end game, all of that talk is kind of unnecessary.” — BYU recruit Siale Esera

The phone in the Eseras’ Honolulu Waikiki Marriott Hotel room rang. On the line was a coach at the Polynesian Bowl announcing to Peter and Pam Esera that their son Siale was elected a team captain. And it was a unanimous vote of all the coaches and players. He was the No. 1 name on everyone’s list.

Timpview High four-star BYU-bound Siale and other players were staying nearby at the Sharaton Hotel and he didn’t know he’d been chosen captain. It would be announced to the teams later. 

“It was a crowning moment for us as his parents. It showed that others respected him. It is one of the things we are most proud of that’s happened to our son,” said Peter. “The coach told us it was very rare to be be a unanimous pick in an all-star game.”

The other captains for Saile’s team were Brayden Dorman, a QB headed for Arizona; Enow Etta, a defensive end bound for Michigan; and DJ Hicks, who signed with Texas A&M. Almost every player at the bowl had NIL offers from collectives associated with universities.

In the game, the opposing quarterback, Tennessee-bound Nicholaus Iamaleava, who ended up being named the game’s MVP, left the pocket on one play and tried to run around the end. Coming from the opposite side of the formation, Siale raced to the other sideline and forced Iamaleava out of bounds. On the sideline, Iamaleava was heard yelling to his guys, “Man, I didn’t know Siale was that fast.”

In the high-stakes recruiting circles surrounding high school players, Siale found himself surrounded by the country’s best. At one of six regional Rivals.com camps, (Los Angeles) before his senior year, Siale was invited to participate with 80 players on the second day (invitees only).

In that group were the biggest and best high school players in the West. He earned defensive MVP honors there and was invited to the Rivals national camp in Atlanta for the five-star challenge. There, the MVPs of the six regionals would gather.

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In Atlanta, Siale went up against players headed for Notre Dame, Clemson and Alabama and won MVP honors. His stock climbed to No. 33 in the country.

“At that time, Pam and I kind of thought it was really cool, but we wondered if we should commit and pursue a five-star rating,” Peter said. “We decided it was his decision and we would support him. It would mean traveling more and competing. He chose to stay home and just work out and prepare for his senior season. He was OK with that and so were we because we kind of wanted him to stay close to home.”

Later, in the fall, after the Baylor-BYU game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Siale committed to BYU. He then signed with a BYU collective for NIL money. He had offers from UCLA, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Tennessee, USC, Utah, Utah State, Virginia and Washington State.

Money is good, but not all

“I think it is good for a student-athlete to have some money to go to school and help them get through college and not have to worry about money and all that stuff,” said Siale. “But to be honest, what is more important on my mind is to enjoy those kind of moments you experience in sports. I feel like I want to focus more on sports and football rather than what money I have each month.

“I think it’s really good to have it (money) but some people get distracted by the money and end up falling into a hole where all they want now is money, and school and football get put on the back burner. Then they try to chase incentives and stuff. It can take you in the wrong direction instead of it being good and helping you further your goals and further your education.”

Siale had more than a few offers of NIL money. 

“You know, money, money, money, can play tricks on you if it changes your goals, but if you have your head on straight and keep sight of your end game, all of that talk is kind of unnecessary.”

Siale is a pretty level-headed kid and he credits his parents for keeping him on an even-keel after he got his first Division I football offers from BYU and Utah State the summer after his eighth-grade year in junior high school.

“My parents kind of kicked me, I’m not going to lie,” said Siale. “They helped me understand that even though I had all these opportunities, continuing my education and football career was more important. My mom and dad helped me keep myself level-headed. He made sure I didn’t get too full of myself, that if I ever got too cocky, it would change who I am, the person I want to be. So they helped me stay on track.”

Siale had more than 20 offers midway through his freshman season at Timpvew, even though he had not played tackle football until that season.

Middle or edge

Siale is listed as an edge player, although he has played middle linebacker. At 6-3, 250 pounds, he will be the biggest linebacker on BYU’s roster when he goes to camp June 26 and starts competing for a role.

“I love to play both on the edge and in the middle, but the middle has my heart.” he said. “I just want to pick apart the offense and hit them where it hurts,” he said. 

“I like playing in the middle because you can see everything. But if you’re on the edge and you’re on the left side and the ball goes to the right, it’s unlikely you can make the play. But in the middle if you’re smart enough to read it and quick enough to see it, and not get caught up in any of the baiting and misdirection the offense throws at you, you can stop the ball wherever it goes.”

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Young Esera’s football skills are anticipated by BYU’s defensive coaches, who are glad he will be playing this coming season. With veterans Ben Bywater and Max Tooley sitting out spring football while rehabbing injuries, that group can use all the quality bodies it can get heading into the Big 12.

“I think he’s very versatile,” said BYU defensive ends coach Kelly Poppinga. “He can play defensive end, tackle and linebacker. I think there are a lot of things he can do. He can rush from the interior or the outside. He’s a great blitzer and has great linear speed. He comes to us with size, like he’s coming in big and strong and he potentially can do a lot for us. That gives him an opportunity to play right away.”

Love of the game

When you bring up his teammates at Timpview High, five of whom are his first-cousins, Siale’s countenance lights up like a thousand-watt bulb. WR-RB Pokai Haunga, Motekiai Mounga  (6-3, 250 defensive lineman) signed with BYU, and preferred walkon Jared Esplin will join that trio.

“I love that dude,” Siale said of Haunga. “He is a difference-maker. He knows how to pick apart a defense, to shift the defense and open up that green space behind and get the post behind the safety and they’d just lob it to him. He was fast enough that the speed of the defense wouldn’t matter. When our quarterback and Pokai got on the same page, it was a real treat.”

Siale felt sorry for Haunga that he injured his knee the first game of last season and had to sit out the T-Birds’ march to the championship game. He came to Timpview from Hawaii and immediately displayed explosive, dynamic skills.

BYU commit Siale Esera poses with recruiting letters he has received from programs around the country. The Cougars are happy they landed the coveted recruit. | Esera family

“He’s really good. He’s really passionate about the game and I could feel his pain when he learned he couldn’t play after the Lone Peak game. He was a huge part of our offense. It was a bummer. He could play receiver or running back if he put on more weight. He can play slot or wideout.”

Esplin, said Siale, came from New Mexico and was shy when he first came to Timpview, but football helped him open up to all the guys. “He was able to get a PWO from BYU. He’s fast, a track runner and I feel he has a future at BYU. He reminds me of Dax Milne.”

By the same token, one of the great pleasures he experienced in high school was playing with his cousins, a few of them starters for the Thunderbirds.

“It was crazy, a feeling like no other. Playing football is a blast, but to play with family took it to a whole different level. Playing with them it was like our childhood dream come true, having fun, playing at the same time, turning football into our passion and not doing it by yourself.”

Five starters on the Thunderbirds squad that played Lehi for the state championship this past fall are from the same direct bloodline, including 5A first-team all-staters Esera, Micah Beckstead (tailback), Israel Tuiletufuga (center), Isaiah Vaea (slot receiver) and Meryc Matina (offensive guard).

Siale said he is excited to work and compete for playing time this fall. He reports to BYU on June 26 and is anxious to continue his relationship with head coach Kalani Sitake. “I just love him and the relationship I’ve had with him for so long.”

As for Peter and Pam, they are elated. It was their hope this goal would come true and he would be close to home. Peter works at BYU in a dual role. His team in the administration building is in charge of planning in the travel office, everything from door-to-door service for the president to other faculty and administrators. He is also directing BYU’s athletic department travel, which means he is making plans for team trips in the Big 12 this coming season. He has offices in the administration building and Student Athlete Building.

Pam Esera owns a foster care agency in Utah Valley.

“We’re glad Siale decided to stay and play for the home team,” said Peter. “We were hopeful he would sign at BYU, but we kind of left it (and whether to pursue a five-star rating) in his hands because he was visiting Stanford, USC, Oregon and Cal. He was getting invited to go to all these schools. We went to Georgia and Alabama and what stood out for us is we were comfortable where he was with BYU.”

Fans in the student section hold up a BYU banner during a football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Oct. 15, 2022.
Fans in the student section hold up a BYU banner during a football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News