PROVO — What were you doing as an eighth-grader and what considerations were you lending to your future as an adult?

For most of us, the answer would be “not much,” with Raider Damuni standing as no exception back in the spring of 2016.

But a surprise overture by BYU coach Kalani Sitake impacted the outlook for the now 6-foot-2, 190-pound three-star prospect, who holds offers from several top collegiate programs.

“I just have a really good relationship with Kalani (Sitake) and trust him. I know he has my best interest in mind, and I love BYU. I always have and know it’s a place that will respect my desire to serve a mission and help with my development in areas outside of football.” — Raider Damuni

Damuni recalls the moment well, when Sitake, who was then just months into his tenure as BYU’s head coach, offered him a scholarship at a remarkably young age.

“I had no idea what to think of it,” Damuni said. “I really had no idea what it meant. I was just playing football when they called me in to offer me. It was shocking, and it took some time for it to sink in and to realize what it meant.”

Of course Damuni’s father, Jack Damuni provided a good mentor, having been the beneficiary of a BYU football scholarship back in the early 1990s before moving on to be a part of Sitake’s staff at BYU.

“I always wanted to play in college, but thinking about it actually being a possibility is something I didn’t really think about a lot back then,” Raider said. “I was just having fun, like most kids that age, but after sitting down with my dad, I came to know it was a huge blessing.”

Athletic blessings came early for Raider Damuni, growing up in the Kula area of Maui, where he began playing football in the first grade before taking a bit of a hiatus to focus on basketball. He returned to football in the fifth grade, mostly because he loved the sport, and excelled at it.

But living in upcountry Maui doesn’t provide a lot of exposure, with Raider believing he wouldn’t have received the college attention he’s received had his family remained there. Just after his seventh-grade year, the Damuni family packed up and moved to Provo, where Raider believes he benefitted from a higher level of football, accompanied by more attention.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt I benefited by the move here to Utah, and I love it here. I always have,” he said. “You just don’t get the type of exposure, growing up where I did in Maui, so I’m thankful to be here.”

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Sure enough, offers came pouring in after BYU’s initial overture.

Following his freshman year, Utah State came forward with an offer, which was followed quickly with an offer from Utah, which started the process in earnest, according to Raider.

“Once Utah offered it got a little crazy,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was overwhelming, but mostly exciting. You work so hard your whole life, and to have that validated is just a huge blessing. I was grateful for every offer I received, and still am.”

Despite his early commitment to BYU, Sitake encouraged Raider to explore all his opportunities throughout the process, knowing that the competition for his services would mount as time passed.

Timpview cornerback Raider Damuni (3) breaks up a pass intended for Alta wide receiver Daniel Thomason (14) during a high school football game at Alta High School in Sandy on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

As for now, Raider intends to follow through with his commitment to BYU, for several reasons.

“I just have a really good relationship with Kalani and trust him,” he said. “I know he has my best interest in mind, and I love BYU. I always have and know it’s a place that will respect my desire to serve a mission and help with my development in areas outside of football.”

Raider Damuni is just a few months away from serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Already 18, he plans on graduating from Timpview High this December and leaving for his mission soon after.

“It’s not for everyone, but for me, I feel it would be selfish of me not to serve a mission,” he said. “I’ve just been blessed with so many things, and feel it’s a great opportunity to give back. I believe I’ll be blessed for it in my overall development. It’s not all about football.”

As far as football is concerned, Raider possesses a versatile athletic makeup that would allow him to can play a variety of positions.

“He plays everywhere for us, and is about as versatile as any athlete I’ve coached,” said Timpview coach Andy Stokes. “He plays defense, he returns kicks, and now we’re even playing him at quarterback. He plays receiver — he can really do it all.”

Timpview wide receiver Raider Damuni (3) reals in a ball while defended by Lone Peak defensive back Justin Ostler (11) during the first half of a high school football game at Lone Peak High School in Highland on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News
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Stokes also noted that Damuni is a uniquely humble and hardworking player, despite all the recruiting attention, which can get the better of some high school athletes.

“He does whatever we ask him to, and we ask him to do a heck of a lot,” Stokes said. “He’s never missed a workout or meeting, and really hasn’t been late for any of them. He’s focused and humble. He’s a great example for our players. He’s special.”

When he returns from his mission, Raider Damuni plans on focusing on playing defensive back, despite his ability to play several different positions, and is hopeful to continue his development.

“I feel defensive back is where I can excel most,” Raider said. “I’m just excited for the opportunities ahead of me and focused on becoming the best player and person I can possibly be.”

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