Hawaii receiver John Ursua said this weekend’s road game against Brigham Young will be the “biggest game of my career by far.”
But if things had gone according to the initial blueprint, Ursua would be wearing BYU’s blue jersey.
“I verbally committed to BYU my sophomore year” at Utah’s Westlake High, Ursua said. “I had planned to go there.”
But after transferring from Westlake, a 10-minute drive from BYU’s campus in Provo, to Cedar High, which is about three hours away, Ursua learned the cold reality that football is indeed a contact sport.
“After I transferred, I lost a lot of contacts at BYU,” Ursua said.
Ursua actually was attending two schools, shuttling between Cedar High and another school with an intensive academic curriculum. Norm Chow, who was Utah’s offensive coordinator at the time, was alerted to a quick receiver with sure hands. After Chow was named UH’s head coach in December 2011, he offered a scholarship to Ursua.
“Once Coach Chow got the Hawaii job, I decided to come back home,” said Ursua, who grew up on the Big Island but moved to Utah after his freshman year at Kealakehe.
The condition was that Ursua, a member of the Mormon church, would enroll at UH after serving a two-year church mission. Because of the delay in earning a diploma from two high schools, Ursua had to wait a year before starting his mission in Paris.
When he completed his mission in 2015, Ursua was considered a free agent. In addition to UH, he considered BYU and Oregon State. Ursua had known Kalani Sitake who was OSU’s defensive coordinator.
“Coach Chow stuck with me the best throughout my process on my mission,” said Ursua, who decided to honor his pledge to the Rainbow Warriors. Sitake is in his third year as BYU’s head coach.
“After my mission, I had a month off, and I came here,” Ursua said. “I only had about a month to get my body ready for fall camp. It was super hard. On my mission, I ran a mile each day. That was about the extent of my working out every day. I was in shape, but I was very small and I was weak at the time. Thanks to my brothers’ playing college football, I had a month to work out with them. I got to a pace I was really glad I was at.”
He redshirted in 2015, a season in which Chow was dismissed with four games remaining. Under head coach Nick Rolovich, Ursua has thrived as a slot receiver. This season, he is the national leader with 12 receiving touchdowns.
Saturday’s game has been circled on Ursua’s calendar for a long time.
“It was kind of my dream to go there when I was in high school,” Ursua said. “And then being in front of a fan base I’m familiar with … it’s going to be competitive. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in. It’s been a dream to play in that stadium. Fortunately, I’ll be in a Hawaii jersey playing in it. It’s going to be fun.”
Ursua said Westlake, Saratoga Springs, Orem and Provo are “home to me. … I know all that area. I really miss that place. I have all my best friends out there. I have about 10 best friends deep. They’re all going to be able to attend the game. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere for me.”
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