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…
JG: Tell me who you were in December 2009 when you decided to leave for your mission, and tell me who you are now?
Xavier Su’a-Filo: “Then I was Xavier Su’a-Filo. I had just finished my freshman season of football for UCLA and I was preparing for my mission for the LDS church. Two years later, I’m still the same me, I’m still the same guy. But the mission experience I had was one that changed my life and really helped me in a variety of ways: to be a better man, to become a better person, to be humble. To know how to shape my life better.”
JG: Tell me about the moment you made the decision to leave on your mission…
XSF: “I decided that I was going to serve a mission when I flew back from DC from the bowl game to go home. I realized I wasn’t going to go back. It hit me when I got home, like, ‘Wow, man, I am making this decision. I am going to go.’ I had a lot of support so that made it easier. It hit me right then that I had decided what I was going to do, and I felt good about the decision.”
(I don’t want to clutter the page, so check out more quotes after the jump…
JG: At what point in the journey did you think, ‘Thank God I did this, because if I hadn’t…'”
XSF: “There were a lot of points like that. It had its ups and downs. It was really hard … but it was also fun. We had some rough days, when we didn’t have so much success. It was challenging. Really pushes you to see how diligent you could be. Then you’d have some good days, some success. You’d be able to find somebody or help somebody or serve somebody who was really appreciative of it, and you could see the change in their lives. That made it all worthwhile.
‘In the beginning, when I first got there – they send you to a training center before you go to the field – a few weeks into the training center, it really hit me: ‘Man….wow. This is what I’m going to be doing for two years.’ Various times throughout the mission, I sat and contemplated, thinking, ‘This is exactly where I need to be. This is exactly what I need to be doing. Because I wouldn’t have learned … this.'”
JG: I have a lot of friends who have returned from missions, and they seem to fall into two categories: guys who think now that I have done this, I’m going to be changed, and those who don’t really become affected by it until later in life. Have you started contemplating that yet, or do you think it will hit you when you’re 35 and thinking, “What would it be like if I hadn’t have done it?”
XSF: “I think it’s already started to do happen with me. Just for being faithful that way, we’re promised blessings. For a lot of people, those come immediately, some 10 years later, five years, 30 years. But I’ve already seen a change in myself. Going to class, my study habits, just the way I talk to people, how I’m able to present myself in front of people. Little things I’ve noticed about myself, tiny little disciplinary things that came from serving a mission.
‘I’ve noticed them myself, but people around me have noticed a change, too. I’m still me, though, obviously. Just the little things. being more organized, being on time for things – things that an 18-19 year old kid out of high school would struggle with. I was able to fine tune those things a little bit and really, really I was able to put things into perspective on what was most important in life, which reflected everything. Now I’m at this stage, and it’s school, back in football, my relationships with family and loved ones, the things that are really important, and I’m able to zero in on them, have a balance and really focus. I’m able not to be so distracted.”