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Tragedy: Incoming Utah Freshman Vaenuku Passed Away Following Car Accident

Tragedy:  Utah Freshman Vaenuku Passed Away Following Car AccidentOver the years I have suffered long periods of depression that were triggered by how my sports teams were performing.  Back in 2010 Utah football lost to TCU at home by 40 or so points and TCU could have easily beaten Utah by 70 points.  Prior to that game with TCU, Utah hadn’t lost a game and it was obvious to college football fans around the country that whichever team won that game would be heading to a BCS bowl at the end of the season.  I was depressed for weeks after that loss.  The depression I suffered wasn’t the real type of depression that plagues people like my wife, so nobody should feel bad for me—that’s not the point of this post.  I get a lot of enjoyment from sports, and I understand that I have to take the bad with all the good that comes and I’ve experienced a lot of good.

On Monday I received some very good and surprising news about a basketball recruit that Utah was able to land.  The recruit was highly coveted and he was largely considered to be a must-get recruit in order for Utah basketball to turn itself around and return to its glory years of years past.  I experienced a pretty high high after hearing of that news and I went to bed excited about the prospects of Utah basketball finally being good again.  When I awoke the next morning I opened Twitter on my phone to see if there was any more news about the recruit Utah had landed, and what I saw brought the opposite feeling of what I was expecting.  I read that incoming Utah freshman Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku passed away following a car accident in New Mexico.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Vaenuku was a 300 pound defensive tackle who committed to Utah last year and was set to get significant playing time at Utah as a freshman.  He was from an area in Texas where Utah pulls a lot of Polynesian recruits and I watched last year as Vaenuku made a live announcement that he was committing to Utah.  His announcement was one of the most unique announcements I had seen before.  When he went through the standard put the hat on routine that major recruits go through, he pushed all the hats off the table and pulled out his month’s old nephew who he had dressed in Utah gear as a way of showing his commitment.   He also expressed his dreams of one day going on a Mormon mission and becoming an actor later on in life.  It was easy to see from that video that the kid was full of charm and charisma. (For more on what kind of person Vaenuku was check here–it’s well worth the read.)

The more I read about the news the worse it got.  There were five people in the car that crashed and two other individuals also died–Polo Manukainiu (a freshman at Texas A&M) and his younger brother, Lolo Manukainiu.  Salesi Uhatafe, Jr., who was also an incoming Utah freshman from the same Texas area, was also in the car and survived and may have even been driving when the accident happened.  Polo Manukainiu was Salesi Uhatafe’s step-brother and Lolo Manukainiu was his little brother.  Vaenuku was Uhatafe’s best friend and both were set to play football for Utah, but this young man lost two of his brothers and his best friend in one quick moment on a highway in New Mexico.

It was devastating to learn that three young men died who had significant potential in this life, and it was a severe reminder that although sports are fun to follow, in the end they’re just sports and there are far more important things in life than sports.

Photo Credit: UteZone.com/Rivals.com

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