Ute players' relatives perish in tsunami
Utah notes » Eleven relatives of players die in natural disaster.
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Two University of Utah football players lost a total of 11 relatives in the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Samoa and American Samoa on Tuesday.

Sophomore defensive tackle Sealver Siliga from Copper Hills High School in West Jordan lost eight family members in the disaster, according to Utah school officials.

Neli A'asa , a junior offensive lineman from Big Rapids, Mich., who was born in Pago Pago, lost three relatives in the 8.0 earthquake that triggered a 15- to 20-foot wave that battered the islands.

Strength and conditioning coach Doug Elisaia , who was raised in Pago Pago, received better news.

Two aunts, who at first were feared lost in the tsunami, survived.

"We got the call today that they were found, so we're counting our blessings," Elisaia said after practice on Wednesday.

His aunts live "in a village right down there by the shore," Elisaia said. "So they were right up front."

When the tsunami hit, his aunts "just headed to high ground." With communications and transportation in disarray, they walked out and informed anxious relatives they had escaped with their lives via the internet.

"All night, we just pieced the puzzle together," Elisaia said. "That was the most frustrating thing -- just sitting there waiting to see something pop up on the internet. That's how we put the pieces together."

He continued: "... It was a rough night, but it ended up pretty good. It's unfortunate that some other guys on the team suffered more."

Said head coach Kyle Whittingham : "It's a tragic situation and I don't know all the details, but I know a lot of our guys on this football team were affected by it. The phones have not been functioning.

There has been some communication by internet and e-mail, but it's not a good situation."

A tough lesson

Normally, a bye week would afford Whittingham the perfect opportunity to watch his son, Alex , play football.

Not this year. Alex Whittingham, a senior linebacker at Brighton High, suffered a season-ending knee injury during a 24-0 win over Davis on Aug. 21. He underwent surgery last week.

"To be a senior in high school and have that taken away from you, that's tough," Kyle Whittingham said. "... He's on the mend but, mentally, he really wishes he was out there."

What does a father say to a son in such an unhappy circumstance?

"I just tell him to hang in there and things happen for a reason," Whittingham said. "There are positive things in his future. Some way, somehow there's a lesson to be learned here. We may not know what it is now, but some day he will."

Whittingham said his son will "more than likely" walk on at Utah next year "... and see what he can do."

luhm@sltrib.com

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