Tonga Tough: BYU’s Houston Heimuli Gives Back To Tsunami Relief Through Poster

Feb 11, 2022, 3:20 PM | Updated: 3:28 pm

Houston Heimuli - Tonga Tough - BYU Football...

BYU football fullback Houston Heimuli poses in front of a Rockwell Monster Truck in West Haven, Utah on February 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hema Heimuli)

(Photo courtesy of Hema Heimuli)

WEST HAVEN, Utah – The most powerful tsunami of the 21st century rocked the nation of Tonga last month. Five lives were lost in what has been deemed an “unprecedented disaster” by leaders in the area. NASA even said the tsunami was more powerful than an atomic bomb.

The residents in the nation of Tonga are still picking up the pieces as they try to move forward with their lives.

After transferring from Stanford, Houston Heimuli, one of the newest members of the BYU football program, wanted to give back to Tonga and the relief efforts. A place close to his heart.

Providing relief to the nation of Tonga

Heimuli’s father, Lakei, grew up in Tonga before moving to Hawaii’s north shore at Laie, where he became a football star at Kahuku High School. After Lakei’s prep career concluded, he joined the BYU football program and was a feature running back in the Cougars’ high-powered offense during the National Championship 1984 season.

While at BYU, school photographer Mark Philbrick held a photoshoot of Heimuli in front of a Ford Bronco wearing a lavalava. The caption of the poster read, “Turbo Tongan.”

The elder Heimuli brought the turbo to the finesse of BYU’s passing attack with quarterback Robbie Bosco calling the shots. Once a rugby player in Tonga, Heimuli finished his career at BYU with 2,710 rushing yards, good for seventh all-time in program history.

To honor family, and help the home country of Tonga, the younger Heimuli, who will wear the same No. 35 this fall that his dad wore, held his own photoshoot to recreate his dad’s poster. To raise funds through poster sales to give back to the people of Tonga.

Houston Heimuli: “It was our little way of giving back.”

“It was our little way of giving back,” Heimuli said to KSL Sports. “After we heard what happened, we just didn’t know. What could I do? What could we send? A lot of people sent supplies, and we’re hoping that through this effort, we can provide at least a little bit more relief.

“It was just sad knowing that a place where we came from, while all my family is back there, it’s sad to know that they are all struggling. Just people in general in that whole area, having so many different things happen there, it was just sad. It was kind of a humbling experience to know how lucky we have it over here.”

The project was supported by Rockwell Watches, which donated their time and resources to make it possible. Houston’s photographer was his older brother, Hema Heimuli, who produces the BYU Broadcasting Coaches Shows, which are heard on KSL NewsRadio (Tuesday, 9 p.m.).

Recreating Lakei’s “Turbo Tongan” poster

The two brothers created the poster “Tonga Tough” in front of a Rockwell monster truck. Houston, a former ground and pound fullback in David Shaw’s offense for the Cardinal, was wearing a ta’ovala, a formal clothing item in the Tongan culture.

“It was amazing, kind of surreal just to try and copy that whole photo. For me, it was cool just to finally try and be just like him,” said Heimuli on recreating his dad’s poster to give back to Tonga. “It has been a great experience. Shoutout to Rockwell for allowing us to be here and shoot these photos.” is where you can find the poster. According to the website, the dimensions on the poster are 11 x 17 and sales will be coming soon.

Heimuli, a pre-med grad student, is enrolled in classes at BYU and plans to participate in spring football practices, which begin on February 28.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper. 

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Tonga Tough: BYU’s Houston Heimuli Gives Back To Tsunami Relief Through Poster