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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unga family is making its mark in the world of football

ALBUQUERQUE Anitelu and Lulama Unga migrated from the small island of Vava'u in the Tongan Islands with their family to Hawaii and then to Utah three decades ago with dreams the move would open doors for their six children.

They wanted opportunities and they knew education and sports would be big components in their plans. Anitelu worked as a landscaper and janitor, toiling with his hands to support his family in America.

Anitelu and Lulama are now gone, but their legacy lives on and will be on display today in University Stadium when their grandson, Harvey Unga, is expected to become BYU's all-time leading rusher as a junior.

Harvey is a powerfully strong big runner with a gift for playing consistent and making big plays. He has gained 3,151 yards on 627 career carries. He has a career average of 5.03 yards per carry.

Unga needs just 70 yards to break Curtis Brown's Cougar record of 3,221 career yards, set in 2006. Since Utah's Eddie Wide (145 yards) and Sausan Shakerin (100 yards) both ran for more than that on the Lobo defense a week ago, Unga, the MWC's leading rusher, should get his numbers.

Harvey's mentor, his uncle Fine, the fifth child of Anitelu and Lulama, was the first Unga to make his mark on the American football scene when he starred for Provo High School with Sean Covey in the mid-80s. He then earned All-America honors as a running back at Dixie College and Weber State before signing as a free agent with the Steelers.

"I think Harvey is great," said Fine, who took Harvey under his wings and coached him to run hard. "He's got great size, he's got great speed, traits I wish I had. I think he's a lot better than I was because he's got great hands as a receiver. We are all proud of what he's accomplished."

Fine said Harvey has been taught to run like a rugby player, a sport played by Anitelu and Lulama's two oldest sons, Tua and Jackson, Harvey's father.

"The only thing I've told him is to always protect his wheels. Once your ankles and knees are hurt, you are out. You can get your shoulders, hands and arms banged up but as long as you can hold on to the ball, you'll be OK if your legs and feet are healthy."

Ironically, Harvey Unga's accomplished his remarkable numbers despite fighting nagging injuries his entire BYU career. As a freshman, he was fresh off a sore hip situation that lasted almost a year. He then played two seasons with ankle injuries and deep bruises and he missed BYU's opener, a win over Oklahoma, with a broken hand this fall.

Still, Unga chugs along and performs.

Fine said the Unga clan is proud of Harvey, but he's also happy the rest of his cousins, the grandchildren here in the states, are following in his footsteps, using sports to further their education.

The oldest Unga son, Tua, had a son, LeRoy, who played at Snow College last year.

The second oldest, Jackson, has Harvey and his younger brother, DT Victor, at Timpview High and BYU.

Daughter Iana has a son, Tony Pulu, playing at A.L.A. in Spanish Fork.

Fine's son Morgan is the second quarterback for Bonneville High.

The youngest of the Unga children, Ala Lauson, has two sons playing for A.L.A. in Spanish Fork.

"I'm proud of all of them, they are doing great things and you'll see their names pop up," said Fine, who set a Rotary Bowl record back in the day when he ripped off 270 yards rushing in one of the initial post-season bowls in St. George.

A big question — one that Harvey Unga cannot and will not answer until the season is over — is whether he will forgo his senior year at BYU and put his name in for the NFL draft.

Unga would then try and join two other Tongan teammates, second-generation American immigrants, Fui Vakapuna and Fahu Tahi, on NFL rosters.

Fine says the decision belongs to Harvey, after talking with his parents and coaches.

"The thing is, as a football player, your body can only do so much and take so many hits. If he decides to turn professional, it will be that he wants to take advantage of football and make money while he's healthy and not risk injury as a college player.

"On the other hand, my parents came to this country to better their family, their children and grandchildren and getting an education is so important. Harvey needs to graduate and get his degree. If it isn't while he plays college, then he needs to do it later, and make it a priority to do so," said Fine.

Only two of Anitelu and Lulama's children obtained a college education (Jackson and Fine) and a third, Ala, is attending Utah Valley University.

"Harvey has an opportunity to be an example and get his degree. But he'll also do what is right for him personally with that decision to go to the NFL early or stay," said Fine. "We'll see."

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