UCLA offensive tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo arrived in 2009 to much fanfare, the team’s highest-rated offensive line recruit in more than a decade.
His return from a two-year mission, though, might be even more crucial to the Bruins.
I sat down with Su’a-Filo for an hour to talk about faith and football, about how he’s changed in two years, and more importantly to UCLA football fans, how he’s stayed the same. So, to clarify: He is 310 pounds, grew a little taller, worked out on his own quite often, and he expects to be rounding into shape come spring football, with a target goal of getting to his post-freshman level by the fall.
More importantly to him, though, was his change from boyhood to manhood during what was a trying two-year period of his life.
Check out our chat below…
Jon Gold: A lot of former missionaries are tempted to transfer to BYU or Utah because they get so comfortable being around people of their faith; did that thought cross your mind?
Xavier Su’a-Filo: “Yeah, a little bit. Not for a football reason. There were a lot of rumors I guess speculating if I would be back. I always wanted to come back to UCLA. I was a little bit skeptical when coach Neuheisel got fired. He was the guy who gave me my scholarship. He was my coach. When he was fired, naturally I looked into other options. Just started thinking about them, if it wouldn’t work out, if UCLA wouldn’t take me. I wasn’t sure if coach Mora would want me. I wasn’t sure. A lot of people think I’m dumb for thinking that, but it was realistic. I was thrilled to find out when Coach Mora got hired, he still wanted me back at UCLA. I was thrilled I didn’t have to sit out.
“I can understand after serving a mission, I can see why guys will transfer to BYU or Utah after. I can see why they want to surrounded by that. It’s a nice thing to have, to be around by those with your with your beliefs. I’ve actually met quite a few people here who are already members of the church, and a lot of friends and people have asked me about it and it’s great to be able to share my beliefs and start conversations that way. I just wanted to come back to UCLA, and when I found out I could, I was thrilled. I really feel comfortable here. I feel like I’m here it’s a decision I made before and I loved it. I love the boys on the team and I think we can be good.”
JG: Were you constantly thinking about football?
XSF: I always cared about football. It was hard because a lot of people would meet me on my mission and say, ‘Hey, you’re a big boy. Did you play football?’ They’d ask me all these questions. At first I got a little tired of it because that’s not why I was there. And it wasn’t helping because I did miss football. I’d try to change the focus, “Yeah, I used to play ball,’ and it wouldn’t get past that. I would have some companions say what do you mean, and I’d tell them I played at UCLA, and down in Alabama, Florida, they’re not huge fans. I hung out with Florida State fans the most – down all the members are Florida State fans, Alabama fans and Auburn fans. They were Roll Tide. When they found out I played at UCLA, they were like, ‘Oh…that’s neat. That’s good. Good for you.’ But I met a lot of good people there making the connection with football. When I was my mission I missed football a lot, but I knew it wasn’t why I was there.”
JG: How much were you able to actually even devote to football? There’s the hour a day you could do pushups or situps, but no equipment or anything. Were you reading a newspaper? Is there anything that you can do to keep up?
XSF: “Not a whole lot. My dad was my main source; he would try to keep me focused, but in his weekly email, he’d make a note, ‘This is what happened to UCLA…’ There were a couple times when I was on my mission where we went over to homes of members and they were playing football games and our team happened to be on the highlights, but we were never able to sit down and watch a full game. I was pretty well-informed, there was nothing I could do about it, but I was informed.”
JG: You’re seeing them go 4-8, 6-8, what’s going through your mind?
XSF: “Dang man, it was hard to hear. Like any player who played for a team, it’s not something you want to hear. But there wasn’t anything I could do except wish for the best for my boys. I knew I’d committed to my mission, that I couldn’t change that, and if I would get all mad and worked up, it would distract from what I was doing. Initially I thought, ‘I wish they would’ve won,’ but it’s like, get over it. It’s a little different now I can play. The losses will be harder. But after everything I’d heard was going on, the games, losing, I was still very excited to get back, to play with my boys and contribute.”