The death of University of Utah football player Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku on Tuesday hit the Utes where they live. By all accounts, he was a great young man, preparing for football, as well as an LDS mission.
A vehicle crash in New Mexico also took the life of Polo Manukainiu, a tackle at Texas A&M, and 13-year-old Lolo Uhatafe.
Naturally, there were expressions of sadness and condolence from the Utah side, but also from Utah’s rival, BYU. Coach Bronco Mendenhall tweeted: “My condolences and blessings to all the families associated with the tragic loss of lives within the Utah football program.”
Vaenuku was recruited by BYU, as well as several other top schools. He told the Deseret News in January that he chose Utah because he loved the LDS institute building and he wanted to use it to prepare for a mission.
The expressions of sympathy, and the goals of Vaenuku raise a point: Utah and BYU players are, in general, more alike than different. Both schools have LDS returned and/or future missionaries. Both rely heavily on players of Polynesian ancestry. And both, in large part, have fine people playing for their teams.
No one team owns that.
As it gets closer to the BYU-Utah game this September, the rhetoric will ramp up. But fans should remember that, in spite of the rivalry, there’s someone on the other team who isn’t much different from the guy you love on your own team.
The tragic events of this week are proof enough of that.