|Prep Sports: Unusual suspects sit atop the rankings|
|Murray defender learned lessons the hard way from his older brothers who went to jail|
| By Andrew Aragon|
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Chhun Sun
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Aiono wasn't always a giant. He can remember feeling a lot smaller.
He was smaller as a seventh-grader and he was playing pool in the garage of his home one day in West Valley City. He was waiting for his mom to get home with his brother. It took a while before she and his second-oldest brother started walking in from the car.
Without warning, men in police and SWAT uniforms appeared, and swarmed the home. They told everyone in sight - including Aiono, his mom and his aunt - to lay on the ground.
They were there to arrest his brother. And Aiono, already caught up in an emotional scene, remembers two words coming out from his brother's mouth:
Aiono made a promise that day. He would never have his mom feel the same pain and cry the same tears.
And he's kept that promise.
He is a model citizen at Murray, the star player on the Spartans football team. He leads the team in sacks, even though he's missed time this season after twisting his right ankle in a pickup basketball game in July, then hurting his other ankle in the third game this season. He committed to Utah before the start of his senior year, and will be the first in his family to attend college.
He's driven by a desire to please his mom.
"I was there and it was just sad to see her son taken to jail," Aiono recalled. "It hurts. It always hurt. When I see her cry, I can't help but cry, too. She's given everything she had."
Aliitasi, Aiono's mom, attends her son's games when her diabetes isn't too much to handle. She couldn't be more proud of Aiono, the youngest of her five children.
The son who was arrested that day is still in prison. Her oldest son was recently released.
Aiono could have been the third.
"When you have older brothers, you can't help but look up to them as role models, you know?" said Jared Tupai, Aiono's cousin and teammate. "He knew he didn't want to be like that."
"I'm a mama's boy," Aiono said.
And he knew even in the seventh grade that football might just be his ticket. His coach, Keeko Georgelas, knew that too when he first meet Aiono his freshman year. He's played varsity ever since.
"I think he's going to make it," Georgelas said. "I think it's exciting as a teacher and a coach to see someone have a chance to do something no one else in his family has done . . . It's neat to see kids succeed. That's our future."