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Utah received a verbal commitment Saturday from Herriman defensive end Alexander "Leki" Fotu, the third in-state commitment in Utah's 2016 rapidly filling 2016 class.

In his first year at Herriman after transferring from California's San Leandro High, Fotu already has quite a journey.

His family hails from Tonga, moving before his birth to the Bay Area so his older siblings — Joe is a defensive lineman at Illinois, and Anthony is a defensive lineman at Arizona — could get an education.

But the family was shaken by two tragedies in a one-month span in 2006: Fotu's 3 1/2-year-old sister died after an accidental fall, and his diabetic father succumbed to a stroke weeks later.

"We thought it was the end of the world for us," said Fotu's mother, Toakase.

Football became "therapy" for her four boys, she said. "They managed their anger and the sadness with sports."

Rugby is a family tradition, and Toakase also wanted her boys to learn to learn about Tonga's national sport. Fotu protested that he was a football player. But he was a natural. Within a year, he was a high school All-American.

He caught the attention of the London Wasps (since relocated to Coventry), who invited Fotu to spend the summer of 2013 training with their academy.

He loved London, he loved rugby, and he came back with a slight accent and an affection for tea.

But his football coaches and teammates didn't take kindly to his time away, Toakase said. Some stopped talking to him, and others called him "the All-American kid."

"Everybody changed their attitude toward him."

Fotu sat out last season, perhaps explaining why, at the time of his commitment, he wasn't rated by recruiting services.

The family moved to Herriman in March to give Fotu a chance to earn a college football scholarship.

Other family members thought they were crazy, Toakase said. They went four months without work. But she and Fotu's stepdad are now employed, and Fotu has his scholarship offer.

Fotu, who stands 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, committed sometime within the last couple weeks, she said.

He's the 18th recruit in the 2016 class that the Tribune has reported on. Links to the other known recruits are below.



— Matthew Piper

Twitter: @matthew_piper