Exclusive: Utah Football’s Sione Vaki Talks Making His Late Mother Proud

Oct 26, 2023, 6:36 PM | Updated: Oct 27, 2023, 9:46 am

SALT LAKE CITY – By now you probably know that Utah’s Sione Vaki is a bad, bad man on both sides of the ball, but you likely don’t know what motivates him.

Vaki says he first figured out he had the potential to be a good football player in the eighth grade on his little league team, the Wolfpack. By the time he reached high school he realized if he was going to reach the next level, he was going to need to put time in the weight room.

Vaki put his head down and set to work. It has been paying off big time.

Most importantly though, as Vaki puts on a show week in and week out, playing both offense and defense, he remembers it’s all about making his family, and particularly his late mother, Oto’ota, proud.

“It Was A Great Feeling”- Sione Vaki Talks About His Unique Fit With Utah

In high school, Vaki was primarily known as an offensive player who could also play defense. Utah didn’t care and recruited him on defense, and last year in his first season with the Utes he took off at the safety position.

In 2023, he’s been called upon by the Utes to play some offense and has been a revelation for many people who were unaware of his background.


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Vaki says he chose the Utes because they understood the importance of serving a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints church mission to him, and he was confident he would be in good hands regardless of what side of the ball he ended up playing on.

“When they first came to my house, it was a great feeling,” Vaki said. “The coaches- I was going on a mission. I was planning on going on a mission at the time and that was a big push for the coaches. They weren’t really pushing football. Of course, we talked about football, but a big push was the Church and the Gospel which is dear to me with the passing of my mother. That hit home for me, and Utah was a no-brainer. Even knowing that I was going to be a defensive player, I knew I was going to be in the right hands with coach Scalley.”

Sione Vaki Learned Good Habits Behind Najee Harris

Vaki comes from a high school that is not exactly known for producing high-level football talent at Liberty High in Antioch, California.

In fact, the only other real player of note to come from there was running back Najee Harris who played for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 2017-2020 and was Drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Vaki says he sat back and learned a lot from Harris’ work ethic.

“Oh man, that guy didn’t know how to stop working,” Vaki said. “The coaches had to kick him out of the facilities at times, kick him out of the weight room. The biggest example was hard work from him and just relying on what you can do, putting your head down and grinding.”


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Sione Vaki Being Compared To Eric Weddle, Travis Hunter

There aren’t a lot of players who can effectively play both sides of the ball, so when they come up, everyone takes notice.

The Utes had their own two-way star about 20 years ago in Eric Weddle who pretty much did it all for the “Original BCS Busters”.

Colorado’s Travis Hunter has been all the rage this season, that is until Vaki stepped up to the plate.

Utah’s budding star is just grateful to be put in the same sentence as those two while he does everything he can to help the Utes accomplish their goals for the season.


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“I’m really just humbled to have my name next to those two players,” Vaki said. “They were able to pave the way for athletes to be able to show their ability in being able to go both ways. Being recognized with those two names is an honor.”

At The Heart Of It All, Sione Vaki Is Focused On His Why

Vaki lost his mother, Oto’ota a few years back to cancer. Her two wishes for her son were to serve a mission and go to college. Vaki has checked both of those boxes with ease.

When asked about being able to live out his mother’s dreams for him, Vaki was initially taken by surprise.

“Not too many people know that,” Vaki said smiling. “Sorry, could you ask that question again?”


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“Man, that means a lot,” Vaki went on. “I’m just happy I’m able to make her proud. I’m a big mamma’s boy so that means everything to me. I’m just trying to be an example just like she was. She was a woman of no complaints and that’s what I’m trying to do for my team. Just go out there and give it my all.”

As his star continues to rise for the Utes, the Northern California native is thankful to have his entire family in Utah with him for the journey now. After all, they are who he does it all for.

“It’s amazing to come back every Sunday and be able to spend time with my family and see them,” Vaki said. “It’s just great to see everyone happy. That’s pretty much what I’m here for is just to be of service to those around me and especially for my family and loved ones. I love to make them happy. If going on the field and making plays makes them happy- then I’m trying my hardest to do that.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Exclusive: Utah Football’s Sione Vaki Talks Making His Late Mother Proud