SALT LAKE CITY — Ricky Heimuli's lengthy recruiting process came to an end Wednesday morning, but not without some drama.
On Tuesday night, the Brighton star defensive tackle informed roughly 40 family members gathered at his house in Glendale that he would be signing with the University of Oregon on National Letter of Intent Day. The decision was greeted with plenty of quacking and cheering.
The next morning, Heimuli wasn't so sure. A restless night's sleep for the 18-year-old had him reconsidering whether UCLA was the place for him.
"Thoughts were running through my head," said Heimuli. "UCLA was still calling me, it made it tough. I actually thought I was going to go with UCLA, but in the end my gut feeling told me to go to Oregon."
So that's exactly what he did. In front of approximately 150 family and friends at the Brighton High School atrium, Heimuli ended the suspense by slipping on an Oregon cap and signing his letter of intent amid wild cheers among most on hand.
"I chose this school 'cause it was what I felt inside, not 'cause what anyone said," said Heimuli. "I want to thank Heavenly Father for giving me the blessings to come this far."
On Tuesday Heimuli had narrowed his college choices down to Oregon, UCLA and Utah, but in the end he felt most comfortable being an Oregon Duck and playing for Oregon defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro.
"I feel comfortable with this decision, 'cause I got to know my position coach the most. He's the one who recruited me," said Heimuli.
It wasn't just a matter of Azzinaro putting on a nice recruiting show either. Heimuli's older brother Sefo played at East High back in 2002 with Will Takuafu, who just finished his senior year at Oregon. Throughout various conversations, Takuafu said playing for Azzinaro was a special experience, and that "he knows what he's talking about."
Heimuli is ranked as the 88th best recruit nationally — eighth at his position — by rivals.com for the class of 2010, and many figured he'd follow in his cousin Latu Heimuli's footsteps and sign at the University of Utah. It seemed logical as well since he played with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's son, Alex, at Brighton High the past few years and formed a nice bond with the Ute family.
In the end though, Heimuli believed leaving the state and his tight-knit family was best for him.
"Utah is close to home, but I honestly feel that it's too close. I want to be able to go out and explore the world," said Heimuli. "The sooner I start the sooner I can get used to it and get less homesick, 'cause I'm probably the biggest mama's boy."
At Eugene, Ore. — a campus that Heimuli says is the perfect size — he'll be forced to become more independent.
The 18-year-old will compete for playing time right away as well. Oregon graduated most of its depth on the defensive line last season, and Azzinaro has informed Heimuli that he will step right in and compete for playing time.
After his freshman season, Heimuli plans on serving an LDS Church mission like three of his older siblings, including two brothers who are currently in the mission field.
Unlike many athletes who commit much earlier in the recruiting process, Heimuli was committed to weighing his options as long as possible. Even as late as 7 o'clock on Tuesday night, despite dozens of family members arriving at his home for an announcement, Heimuli sat in his basement bedroom pondering what to do.
"It was very tough, I had a lot of coaches calling me," said Heimuli.
Eventually, a joyful Heimuli emerged from his basement bedroom content in his final decision and declared himself a Duck to his family. In typical Heimuli fashion though, it was more indecision than a final decision.
It wasn't until he put pen to paper on Wednesday that he officially became an Oregon Duck.