Note: This story was published in Saturday's Daily Herald, leading up to the Houston game.
Alani Fua married his high school love while he was actually still in high school.
This was a bit of a complicated and delicate story within the family, as one might imagine.
Malaysia was pregnant. Fua insisted to all that this was no irrational decision. He had known her since childhood, they were perfect for each other.
So they tied the knot.
And then there was his football decision. Alani's older brother, who now is in the NFL, took all five possible visits to decide he wanted to go to school. Sione wanted to go to Oregon (his first visit), but dad made him check out other places and he wound up elsewhere. There was some bewilderment among Fua's family that Alani visited BYU, said it was perfect and refused to look anywhere else.
So by now, you're probably thinking one thing: Man, is this guy stubborn.
And Fua wouldn't disagree.
"Once I have my mind set on something, it's over," he said. a smile sneaking across his face.
Which is perhaps how Fua set out on becoming a valuable linebacker this season, when it already appeared BYU's football team had enough of them even before games started.
Fua flipped his own set-in-his-ways mind this past summer with the ongoing message coaches kept giving him about the need to gain weight. With a wife, two kids and his own college career "slowly coming to an end," as the junior puts it, he put his mind to a goal that would help him become a key contributor to this year's team and one of the top overall NFL prospects if we're already to take a peek at 2014.
Fua is 215 pounds of versatile fury. He is seventh on the team in tackles, second in sacks (two), tied for first in pass breakups and is coming off a game-changing interception against Georgia Tech last weekend.
"I think very highly of him," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has raved about his teammate since August. "He's my cousin and he's awesome. He's going to be a great player here. He just has to keep working."
Fua knows what the foundation of success looks like.
He's literally seen it poured in the Hollywood Hills, where his father worked for a construction company in the Los Angeles area that catered to creating a lot of custom-made homes. The elder Alani (whose given name is George) also served as a bodyguard to various celebrities, Alani said.
In house, he also has a brother that's about 3 1/2 years older that thrived at Stanford and was a third-round NFL draft pick in 2011.
Sione, with the Carolina Panthers, has never seen his brother in-person for one of his BYU games. The schedules have never quite worked out. But he watches every one of them and said he's been thrilled to see a difference in Alani's demeanor.
"Having the opportunity to play obviously makes a big difference," Sione said. "But I also see that he's just more passionate this year. You can just tell his drive — and he's having fun. He's making plays himself, or celebrating with his teammates."
Alani admits he was burned out a couple of years ago. "Overwhelmed by everything," he says.
He came to BYU in 2010, and soon his parents followed. His mother, Helen, had been laid off from an IT-department job with a national banking company — when banks were undergoing massive overhauls during the economic crisis — and the family was looking for the next thing to do.
Her husband's brother was starting a construction company in Salt Lake City.
The move worked out for family, as now Alani and his wife had a support system in place with a child. They now have a second one, 10-month-old Malakai, to go with 3-year-old Jrae.
Alani said the motive for deciding on BYU was fairly simple. He liked the coaching staff and the team. He also knew that by being married and having a child, he or his wife wouldn't be misfits in Provo compared to most football programs.
His parents carefully concede it was not the most ideal situation, a son bearing so much responsibility at such a young age.
But Alani says he has grown less stubborn and more patient with children in his life. He has found his second wind for football, too.
"It's been exciting for us," his father said, "to see the work he's put into the team; the growth that he's had. It doesn't happen for everybody that tries so hard, so you have to enjoy it."
Fua's biggest move was convincing coaches to shift veteran linebacker Spencer Hadley to an inside position. Folks around the program said the decision worked twofold.
It allowed the faster Fua a chance to allow the Cougars to play their four best linebackers. Hadley, a senior who played inside spots early in his career, could also showcase himself better for the NFL level, as his size likely dictated that's where he would be moved as a pro anyway.
Fua said he found out basically the same time as media and fans, that the move was being made during August preseason camp. One day, Hadley wasn't in a meeting with other outside linebackers.
"Bittersweet," is how Fua describes his promotion. It altered the depth chart for teammates and Hadley was a beloved figure in those meetings.
Fua has shined this year around Van Noy, while Hadley was serving a three-game suspension that was lifted last weekend.
Fua put the lid on Georgia Tech's second-half comeback with an interception returned 51 yards for a touchdown, which made a moot point of BYU's struggling offense.
He put his mind to changing that game in BYU's favor.
"He did it better," Van Noy said when asked to compare his pick-6 at Utah State (on the game's first play) to Fua's heroics. "It was in a more critical time. He jumped a little higher, ran a little farther and ran a little faster."