In the end, Xavier Su’a-Filo chose faith over football.
UCLA’s freshman phenom offensive tackle said after the Bruins’ 30-21 EagleBank Bowl win over Temple on Tuesday that he was leaving school and embarking on his LDS mission.
The All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection has returned home to Utah and will learn of his destination on Jan. 6.
“I always thought it was the right thing to do,” said Su’a-Filo, who was a fixture at left tackle this season, starting all 13 games. “Growing yup, it was what I wanted to do. It was always ingrained in the back of my mind. I wasn’t looking for reasons not to go – I was trying to concentrate on the season, and see if it was the right thing for me to do at this time. After prayer and thought, I felt like it was.”
For months, Su’a-Filo played the decision close to the vest, only saying that he needed further consultation with his family and the UCLA coaching staff. Deep in his heart he knew he wanted to fulfill the religious task, but needed to weigh his options.
Among them: The opportunity to progress toward his eventual goal of the NFL, which he now believes he’s simply pushed back two years.
But he made one thing very clear – he always leaned toward leaving, rather than the other way around, despite his lofty football prospects.
“This decision wasn’t based on football,” Su’a-Filo said. “Wherever I went to school, I was going to compete, like I did this year – and I was fortunate to get to start – but it just wasn’t about football. I thought that whatever I did my freshman year, I’d work hard to do that and come back and do the exact same thing.”
Making the decision easier was the resounding support from UCLA’s coaching staff and its players. Su’a-Filo said he had the blessing of offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who is also Mormon, and distinctly remembers telling fellow LDS member Kevin Prince – the Bruins’ redshirt freshman quarterback who has decided not to leave for a mission.
“I remember telling him, pulling him aside, and he kind of looked at me and said, ‘Really? Really? You’re serious?’ and he gave me a big hug and told me congratulations,” Su’a-Filo said. “He said, ‘I’ll miss you, but I know you’re doing the right thing.’ That meant a lot to me. A lot of the guys on the team supported me, they might not have seen it the same way, but they supported me.”
While UCLA fans are left contemplating the decision after Prince decided to stay, Su’a-Filo is quick to point out that the two different positions – lineman and quarterback – have different paths when returning from the two-year absence.
“Quarterbacks and offensive linemen are very different,” Su’a-Filo said. “I looked at it as I was fortunate to have a great coach in high school and here at UCLA, and I think that going on my mission and coming back and being a 21-year-old sophomore, my body can be a man’s body.”
Now, UCLA fans, you can breathe easy: Su’a-Filo reiterated that he intends to remain a Bruin when he returns, and that his decision to leave for his mission is not an open cattle-call for recruitment.
“I’m a Bruin,” Su’a-Filo said. “I committed to this team and this group of coaches. I plan on them being here when I get back. You never know what’s going to happen, and it will be a decision I have to make when I get back, but I’m a Bruin.
“I’m not planning on going anywhere else.”