Lolomana Mikaele committed to a Pac-10 school that was 12-34 in its previous four seasons.
When his college eligibility runs out at the end of the year, he'll leave a program that has been to three straight bowl games.
» Class: Senior
» Position: Defensive tackle
» High school: Damien (2006)
» Height: 6 feet 2
» Weight: 305 pounds
» Notes: 15 career starts, including all 11 games his senior season; 54 tackles, with 11 going for loss in his career; football, basketball and track letter-winner in high school; football second-team all-state selection
The 2006 Damien graduate has witnessed first-hand the unbelievable turnaround at Arizona, where coach Mike Stoops has taken a Pac-10 doormat to the upper echelon of the conference over a six-year period.
Mikaele's career has taken a similar path. He started out as a wide-eyed freshman wanting to go back to Hawaii, but is now a full-time starter at defensive tackle who thinks of Arizona as his second home.
"There was only one guy from Hawaii here and he graduated after one year," Mikaele said. "Once he left, I wanted to go back home, but I talked to my mom and dad and we prayed every day over the phone."
Both of his parents never went to college, which weighed heavily on Mikaele's mind when he decided to stay at Arizona. The move paid off as Mikaele has started every game this season for a team that at one point was on the cusp of a top-10 ranking.
"My family doesn't come from much, so getting through school was something very important to me," said Mikaele, who graduated last spring with a degree in family studies and human development. "From that point on I just worked my butt off and now I'm a team captain and have a big responsibility because a lot of people look up to me."
Mikaele was projected to compete for a starting spot in 2008, but an administrative error forced the 6-foot-2, 305-pound tackle to miss the entire season.
A year later, he played in every game, paving the way toward this season in which he's started every game.
"That break (in 2008) is what made me strong and motivated myself to compete every single day," Mikaele said. "That's when I grew up."
Mikaele has doubled his career total in tackles this season with 29 in 11 games, heading into tomorrow night's rivalry game against Arizona State.
After losing to the Sun Devils during his first two years, Mikaele has a chance to finish with a winning record against Arizona State when the teams meet on senior night on the Tucson campus.
"This game is more than a championship game," Mikaele said. "This is more like a battle to be the kings of Arizona and we won the last two so hopefully we can do it again."
Mikaele's size projects well to the next level, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Saint Louis graduate Tyson Alualu, who was taken 10th overall in this year's NFL Draft at the same position.
However, Mikaele is also prepared in case life takes him in a different direction.
"You'd love for things to work out that way, but you just never know, so it's good to have a backup plan," he said. "I joke with my coaches that I might be a cook or I might join the Air Force.
"I don't really know what I'll end up doing, but I hope and pray that it works out for the best."