Sione Takitaki’s Journey Is Example Of Kalani Sitake’s Recruiting Approach
PROVO, Utah – “BYU will change your life,” Kalani Sitake’s pitch to potential recruits is simple: Attending BYU will change you for the better. He knows, he attended the school and was a three-year starter and team captain for the legendary LaVell Edwards.
So, what better example could he give to recruits than himself?
The third-round pick to the Cleveland Browns is a perfect example to the degree which BYU can help an individual flourish as a person both on-and-off the field. The former BYU linebacker showed NFL potential from his first day in a Cougar uniform. But off the field, his journey wasn’t quite as easy.
His career at BYU almost ended before it even began.
Before his freshman year, Takitaki was almost kicked off the football team for a fight in the BYU dormitories. His future came down to a vote from his teammates who decided to give him another chance to prove himself.
Playing in a limited role as a freshman, Takitaki showed he belonged at the college level. Facing adversity after the loss of star quarterback Taysom Hill, Takitaki delivered two pivotal sacks in a tough road loss against Central Florida.
He finished his freshman year with three sacks and four tackles for loss and was poised for a breakout Sophomore campaign. But once again, off the field trouble found Takitaki before the season began.
Working as a janitor at BYU’s athletic department, Takitaki was caught stealing athletic gear on the job and was suspended for the first game of 2015 – the now legendary win over Nebraska that ended with quarterback Tanner Mangum’s Hail Mary.
But once Takitaki found his way back onto the field, he could not be stopped. In six games played, he record 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss including a breakout performance against Cincinnati where he recorded eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two tackles for loss.
It would be his final appearance in a Cougar uniform until 2017. Once again, he faced disciplinary action for violating team rules.
He left school for the remainder of 2015, took a redshirt in 2016, and with a new coaching regime in place, his future was uncertain – the new staff owed him nothing and could have easily severed ties with the struggling star.
He had opportunities to land elsewhere with a fresh start where he could focus on football, and only football with no baggage from his previous stint with the Cougars.
But he stuck it out.
“BYU has always been the place [for me],” Takitaki said in an interview with KSL Sports before the NFL draft. “I wanted to re-right my wrongs, I definitely had a bumpy road and I wanted to show I could come back and finish strong,” he stated.
That’s exactly what he did.
In his first game back, Takitaki was a one-man wrecking crew dominating the Portland State Vikings to the tune of two sacks and three tackles for loss. The Cougar faithful in LaVell Edwards Stadium roared in excitement at his return.
“I’m happy to be out here playing with my brothers,” said a reserved Takitaki at practice in the week following the game. “I’m happy to be playing for these coaches and to be representing BYU.”
Takitaki credited his wife, Alyssa – who he married in June of 2016 – for her support in his journey back to BYU.
“Going through that time was kind of rough,” Takitaki said. “I always kept my spirit up. I always knew this was just another bump in the road. I was always going to find a way. Coming in as a freshman to now, it’s night and day. You take a lot of stuff for granted.”
With a renewed purpose, Takitaki was a lone bright spot in a bleak 2017 season where the Cougars finished 4-9, he finished with five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
He went to work in the offseason and continued to grow both on-and-off the field in 2018 – he was named a team captain, led the team in tackles, and finished on a high-note recording 19 tackles – a BYU bowl record – in his final game as a Cougar.
“He is a success story,” Browns Assistant General Manager Eliot Wolf said after the draft. “Talking to anyone there, they didn’t think he was going to make it his first year. He completely turned his life around.”
In mission statement for BYU’s athletic department, Three Program Pillars are identified:
- Develop student-athletes into leaders.
- Live faith-based values of morality, charity and honor.
- Win at the conference and national level, while displaying world-class sportsmanship.
Takitaki’s turn-around exemplifies these three pillars – from a self-described knucklehead, to Cougar captain, to a promising NFL career, his growth shows that BYU – the coaches, support staff, administration, and teammates can change an individual’s life.
Kalani Sitake knows from his own experience, but now he has another example to draw from: