When Ofa Hautau arrived at Snow College, he was struck by how the sophomore defensive linemen carried themselves.
Sure they were strong, and they played tough. But even off the field, Hautau could sense something different about them something he wanted to emulate.
"They were just more mature, they pushed themselves," Hautau says. "I'm a sophomore now, so I have to be more like them. I'm trying to show everyone I've changed a lot."
The 290-pound defensive tackle is not just another year older. He's now closer to following in the footsteps of many linemen at Snow who have gone on to play Division I football.
The Salt Lake native and East High grad now has offers from Utah, Utah State and Hawaii, and if his sophomore season is as strong as many are expecting, there could be more. Hautau is eager to show what he can do: He's a grinder up front who can penetrate and plays with a nasty streak that defensive coordinators love.
He can produce on the gridiron: In the frontline rotation playing behind future Ute Tenny Palepoi, Hautau had 20 tackles and four sacks last season. As a Badgers coach, Tyler Hughes says he's never really had any off-the-field problems with Hautau.
"Ofa has a real high motor and works hard in the weight room," Hughes says. "He has a good physical skill set, but he's learned to work hard at it."
Hautau has long had the potential to be a Division I player, but has only truly embraced that in the past two years. At East, the team cycled through coaches until Brandon Matich arrived in 2010.
When they met, the then-rising senior was getting in lots of trouble, Hautau acknowledges. He hadn't been keeping up his grades too well, and he got into his fair share of scuffles. But Matich saw a kid who didn't yet know the gifts he had.
"I found out quickly that he was the leader of the group, but he didn't know how to lead," Matich says. "He grew over time. When you're coaching kids, you have to put yourself out there and earn their respect, and that will take them places they've never been before. I had a lot of sitdowns with Ofa."
Those early months were not easy, Hautau says. But Matich's effort to get through to Hautau paid off with production on the field and stability off it. He managed to get into Snow, and even though he's been gone from Salt Lake for a year, he still takes time to chat with his old coach.
"He taught me how life was going to be in the future and inspired me to be a better player and a better person," Hautau says. "I call him one of my dads. If he wasn't there, I don't know where I'd be."
For now, Hautau is hard at work. While he's been doing summer school at Snow, he's been hitting the gym: His bench is up to 415 pounds and he can squat 565. The Badgers are hoping those power numbers can translate to sacks when Snow hits the field this fall.
But he's also sure he plays another role for the incoming class of Snow football players.
"I want to show the freshmen I'm here for them," Hautau says. "They're a part of my family now."
Matich doesn't have a doubt that soon everyone will see what he first saw in Hautau years ago.
"He'll be a Sunday guy," he says. "I told him when you make it to the pros, don't forget to buy your old coach a steak dinner or something. Ofa is special he's always at the top of my list."
Ofa Hautau making an impact
As a true freshman, collected 20 tackles and four sacks.
Was an all-state first-team lineman for East in 2010.
Sports offers from Utah, Utah State and Hawaii so far.