The eyes of the football world are fixed this week on New Jersey as the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII.
But one former BYU football star is focused instead on Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Ex-Cougar running back Harvey Unga, who spent his first few years in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, is headed to the "Frozen Tundra" for a tryout with the Packers on Monday.
"I’m excited," Unga said. "It’s a blessing obviously to be able to go through this. I think it’s going to be fun to go out there, see Green Bay and the city itself. I hear there is nothing out there from previous players but there is a lot of history with the football stadium and everything, so I’m excited to be there and just have this opportunity."
The running back who holds the BYU record for all-time rushing yards (3,455 yards) said his faith has carried him through the tough time since he was waived by the Bears in October.
"I’m a firm believer that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle but I think he knows I’m kind of at my cracking point," he said. "I’ve been busting my butt, trying to work hard day-in and day-out. If this is the break, then I’m so grateful for it. If it’s not, I’m not going to get discouraged or anything. I’m going to keep working hard and do what I know I need to do."
Unga was also quick to credit the support of his wife, Keilani, a former Cougar women's basketball player.
"Keilani has been the biggest blessing for me throughout the whole process," Unga said. "I don’t know how she does it. I think if I was the wife of a football player, I’d go crazy with him juggling work and football and family time and having to fly to random places on short notice. She has been such a blessing and I can’t thank her enough for always keeping my spirits high. I think she believes in me more than I believe in myself."
That confidence has been especially valuable in recent months. After being selected by Chicago with a seventh round selection in the 2010 Supplemental Draft, Unga spent most of his time on the Bears practice squad. He did make it onto the active roster for the final game of 2012, but saw his time end there last fall.
"I’m not going to lie," he said. "It was rough. Being there for so many years, I got accustomed to Chicago. I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me to get started. It was a little frustrating that things didn’t work out. I wanted them to but I’m not closing that door at all. I think there is still an opportunity for me to go out to Chicago. I’ve kept good ties with them and I still think there is a chance."
There were also other possibilities but the right circumstances never developed.
"I was able to go out to Indianapolis and had a workout with them," Unga said. "After that I went to Tennessee and had a workout with them. At the time they didn’t need a fullback, but they were interested."
He credited agent Rose Blakelock of Provo's NFLDraftMasters for making contact with the various teams and helping get opportunities.
"Because of some of the people talking at Indianapolis and Tennessee and other places, it’s given me this opportunity to go to Green Bay," he said. "The workouts were great but it’s been my luck that — sad as it sounds — none of those running backs got hurt on those teams. I was just waiting for that phone call. As soon as a guy went down, they told me I was their guy."
Blakelock said she's confident Unga will be back in the NFL, whether with the Packers or some other team.
"He is in perfect shape, very healthy, fit and ready to play," she said. "He had a rib injury a little bit when he was in Chicago but ribs are easy to fix. It’s all done and I think he’s going to get on a team. He’s been working hard."
Unga said this Monday's tryout will be a quick trip (just one day) and the fact that it's the offseason makes it a little harder, in his opinion.
"Going in the offseason, it’s hard to really showcase what I can do," he said. "We’re not in pads and we’re not hitting or anything like that. There are no games where I can allow them to see me play. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t do that in practice but it’s an opportunity to showcase more of my skills in catching the ball and moving around. That way I can let them know that even though I’m a bigger back, I can still move around."
But he also believes that Green Bay does some things that fit his strengths.
"I think it’s a fun situation for me, especially going to a team like this that checks down to the running backs," he said. "Watching them in the past, I’ve noticed that they utilize their running backs and their fullback as well. There is a good opportunity for me to do both of those whether at fullback or running back."
Of course, there is also an element of personal motivation because the Packers and the Bears are rivals.
"I think the biggest thing I’ve been looking forward to is the fact that Green Bay is in the same division as Chicago," Unga said. "I love Chicago, the organization and everyone out there but if I can hop on this team and establish myself there and get a shot, I think it would be nice to go back to Chicago and show them what they are missing. But who knows how it’s going to go. If it doesn’t work out in Green Bay, there are a lot of other teams out there."
Blakelock said the biggest factor is simply circumstances, just like what happened in Chicago.
"He put a lot of time and effort in but it was the position," she said. "The guys ahead of him were healthy and not hurt. If they’d gotten hurt, he’d be there now. It’s just luck of the draw sometimes but he’s ready to go."
Unga and his family hope this turns out to be the right draw but if not, he plans to build off it.
"I’m going to make the most of the opportunity because something will come of it," Harvey said. "I believe that if you work hard, things are going to work out. We’ll see how it goes."
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.