Player transcended Utah-BYU rivalry

            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.


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  1. Marbo

    On a previous article, I offered my sincere condolences to the family. However, my brother took his own life with a handgun last year and that doesn’t change my perspective on his chosen activities, sports, vocation, etc. that he engaged in before he died. It did give me pause however, to think that THIS tragedy did cause me to improve my perspective on football, in particular. Any hobby or passion on which I can tend to “overfocus” is a candidate for refocusing on the relative importance of the people, compared to the “things” in my life. God bless each family for your loss.

  2. PigskinFan

    I agree that BYU/Utah players are more alike than different, but Vaenuku’s death does not change my perspective on the rivalry game. We will all miss Gaius. I loved Fred Vaenuku’s comments on the “University of Utah football player Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku” article, go read it-its powerful. Gaius’s death does give us a perspective of football compared to Life its self. My heart goes out to the Vaenuku family, especially his Mother, Father, and siblings. God Bless you with Peace and Eternal Understanding at your time of mourning and loss.

  3. Cougar Passion

    “Do events like the death of Keio Vaenuku change your perspective on football games?” That’s a loaded question; it depends on what your perspective was to begin with. I answered “no”, for instance, because I already recognized that some of the kids are similar. A really good example of that is Eric Weddle. What a fine example of truly transcending the rivalry.

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