Dec. 4, 2013
LOGAN, Utah -
by Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
As a football player finishes up high school, there are a few different routes he can take. For most, their football career comes to an end. But for some of the lucky ones, the road is just beginning as they begin to sort out the options for playing at the collegiate level. With several divisions and levels available, decisions are based on offers received and what is best for the individual player.
"As I finished high school, no one was really recruiting me and I didn't have the grades. I had gone to camps and knew different coaches. I worked out for them, but nothing happened," Tauauve'a said. "I decided to go to Snow College with AJ and a couple other guys from high school. I got a scholarship and played two years there."
Over the span of 2009, 2010 and 2011, the three made an impact on the field, leading the teams to successful seasons and two `Top of the Mountains Bowl' wins. They found their footing and got their start for the first push out of high school.
After his graduation from Manti (Utah) High School, Christensen served a two-year LDS Church Mission in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Upon his return, he made his way to Snow College as well.
"I loved playing at Snow. It was an awesome experience to play there. The program was great, and I got to play with a lot of great guys who went on to play at the Division I level, some who came here," he said. "It was great football and a great experience. It helped me get ready to play and compete at this level."
Pataiali'i had several offers to walk-on at various schools, but decided to take the junior college route where there was a scholarship available to him.
Following their individual times at Snow, each of them again found themselves on the same team. After taking time to get their grades at the Aggie standard, they made their way to Logan and all got their starts on the 2012 squad.
"After playing at Snow, I was looking around at my options and Utah State seemed like the best place to come. I was excited to continue playing football," Christensen said. "It's been fun here. It's a great program that is all about working hard and making plays when you have the opportunity to make plays. I've enjoyed it."
For Tauauve'a and Pataiali'i, their connection and team experience goes back to high school. They've worked and grown together, helping each other out and becoming close friends.
"Going to high school seeing him every day, to Snow to here, I've seen him grow. He's a good kid. I've got a lot of love and respect for AJ," Tauauve'a said. "If I need something, I know I can count on him to be here, and I think he has the same feeling. He knows he can call me."
Pataili'i is quick to reciprocate the feelings.
"We're close; we're like brothers. We started at Hunter High and went the junior college route. We motivate each other and help each other work hard," he said. "There were times at Snow that we really shouldn't have been there whether it was bad grades or whatever, but we helped each other out and pulled it off."
Though Christensen's past doesn't tie back quite as far as the other two, he is grateful for the connections they all share and time they've been able to spend together.
"It was fun to transition and compete with all of them. I've now gotten to play four years with all those guys," he said. "They've been great teammates in both places."
As they've worked their way up the ladder of their football careers, each of these three have been through different experiences helping them along and helping them become who they are today.
While at Snow College, Pataiali'i's son Kyson was born. All of a sudden, things were very different. He was forced to grow up quickly and had a new responsibility to take on. He took on the challenge of finding the new balance in his life of football and a child.
"Having a baby that early and not getting as much money as we do here; it was hard. My family had to help me. My girlfriend's parents were supportive. It was just a hard transition from high school to that."
As he took on the challenge, he found within it a new motivation and drive to succeed. It was no longer all about him and that gave him an opportunity to find more in what he was doing.
"That was my motivation to finish at Snow and continue my education and football career to support my son and my soon-to-be wife. My son is my drive. He's my world and my everything," Pataiali'i said. "I have to do things right now to prepare for his future. I want him to follow in my steps, and I want to be a great example to him. I want to be his hero."
As Tauauve'a moved through the various levels of his football career, he learned a lot through his experiences on both sides of the line of scrimmage. In his Hunter High School days, he was a part of the offensive line, but switched to the defensive line at Snow College. After a couple weeks at Utah State, he found himself back on the O-Line.
"I was just playing a back-up role, trying to figure out the offense and get the hang of things. I kept filling that role until I got my chance," Tauauve'a said.
When fellow offensive lineman Kyle Whimpey went down with a season-ending injury against San José State, Tauauve'a's chance had appeared. In the blink of an eye, he was expected to step up and fill in.
"Everything happened quickly. I was just trying to stay calm. I didn't know the details of his injury, but I knew I had to go and finish out the game. I just tried to stay calm and do what I needed to do," he said. "At first, it was fast. I wasn't expecting the game to move that quickly. I started getting the hang of it and things started to slow down."
Conveniently, Tauauve'a is part of one of the most experienced offensive lines in all of college football. There are plenty of opportunities for him to receive help and answers to questions.
"With Kevin (Whimpey) and Tyler (Larsen) on either of my sides, they make it easy for me to see the things I wouldn't see because I'm not very experienced," he said. "I ask these other four guys questions all the time and they don't mind answering. They're quick to help and look out for me."
Throughout his career, Christensen has discovered the importance of his role and the wide range of an impact he can have.
"I think you can have a lot of different roles on the team. It's just anyway you can find yourself on the field, whether that's on special teams or defense or offense. It's about getting on the field and doing your job when you're there," he said. "That's what I've tried to do since I've been here, having been given opportunities to be on the field and making plays."
While there are many differences between playing at the junior college and the Division I levels, these three student-athletes have done a good job of recognizing the importance of their education and the benefits of doing so at a Division I university.
"I've never been a school kid, but that's a part of being a student-athlete. Student comes first with athlete after for a reason. I'm learning to be a better student," Tauauve'a said. "Doing well on the field and off the field all ties together. I'm just trying to do everything right. You can't be lazy and take time off."
Pataiali'i has found the difference in the level of education of Utah State to be the biggest change between his time at the junior college level. Most of that comes with the added resources available to Division I student-athletes.
"Here we've got mentors and tutors and everything is very laid out. They work around your schedule with athletics," he said. "You get a lot of help at this level and there's no reason why you shouldn't succeed."
All three of these student-athletes will graduate within the next year and move forward in their careers.
As they've gone through their educations, these three have learned the value and importance of hard work. They've seen their hard work pay off and they know what they're capable of.
"Ever since I've been here, I've been given the opportunity to perform and work hard. We were encouraged as walk-ons that if we work hard and make plays and are doing what's right on and off the field, you'll have that opportunity. I just tried to take that and work as hard as I could and it paid off," Christensen said. "There are so many things in athletics at all sorts of levels when you spend so much time on something. You're able to see the work you put in something. You can see what you get out of it. As hard as you work is as much as you'll succeed. I think that will be applicable in the future with my career and family someday."
As he moves on from college and into a world without football, different than he's ever known, Christensen plans to take that same mentality with him.
"On the field, I want to be the best I can. It's the same thing in life," he said. "I want to be the best I can in everything I do."
"Our goal is to finish the season out strong. Being a senior, I especially want to end strong. My goal is to play in the NFL, so I have to play well and play for my teammates and brothers," Pataiali'i said. "The coaches have believed in me and brought me in. This is the way for me to shine and play my best."
While he may not have specific personal goals when it comes to stats or numbers, Christensen is here to do his part and help his team succeed.
"I want to do whatever it takes to help my team any way that I can. That's all that matters to me," he said. "I want to help this team accomplish our goals, and I'm just on the field doing my part."
Like so many, they all hope to continue their football careers at the next level.
"If I'm blessed to continue to play, then why not? I just want to continue to do what I love," Tauauve'a said. "After that, it's time to hang up the cleats and put on the boots and start working."
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