Asiata to see familiar faces
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HOUSTON » Johan Asiata has a message for his friends in Hawaii.
"Tell everybody eat some Zippy's for me," the UNLV starting right tackle said.
He also says hello to his friends on the UH football team in Houston who are preparing to play against him and the rest of the Rebels on Saturday. They include starting defensive tackles Mike Lafaele and Fale Laeli, who are both glad Asiata survived a rough time as a teen and graduated from the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy in Kapolei.
Another Warrior, walk-on running back Lorgan Pau, encouraged Asiata to join him at Yuba College in Marysville, Calif., where football neophyte Asiata began to learn the basics -- after playing just three downs of organized ball before quitting the team at McKinley High School.
Asiata is one of seven Rebels who come from Hawaii.
Hawaii ties on both sides of the ball
UNLV has seven players on its roster from Hawaii
||Youth Challenge Academy
||Central Valley (Calif.)
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HOUSTON » If it were not for Lorgan Pau, Johan Asiata would be in the Air Force. And if not for the Hawaii Youth Challenge Academy in Kapolei, Asiata said he doesn't know where he'd be now.
Actually, after a little reflection, he has an idea.
"When I go home to Hawaii, people say 'Johan, where have you been? I thought you were in prison.' "
Asiata, now the starting right tackle for the UNLV football team, was headed in that direction. Spotty attendance at McKinley High School and a lifestyle generously described by friend Mike Lafaele as "knucklehead" landed Asiata at Youth Challenge -- a military-style school for at-risk teens.
"That changed my life, that and church," Asiata said in a phone interview yesterday. "I had bad grades at McKinley and was going to drop out. A counselor told me to go to Youth Challenge and graduate. I went with the plan."
It's not as easy as Asiata makes it sound. The program is like military basic training, with a high school curriculum added in -- usually more than a typical full load of classes since participants are catching up.
"It was rough, living on the streets of Kalihi and then learning a life of discipline, order," Asiato said. "It was a 180-degree turnaround. It straightened me out."
On Saturday, Asiata lines up for UNLV (1-1) when the Rebels host 24th-ranked Hawaii, which features Lafaele and Fale Laeli (another childhood friend of Asiata's), on the UH defensive line.
"In 2005 he said, 'I'll see you in two years,' " Lafaele said. "He made it. I'm going to try to kick his butt Saturday, but I'm very proud of him."
After graduating from Youth Challenge, Asiata was set to join the Air Force. But Pau, a former McKinley running back now a walk-on at UH, convinced Asiata to join him at Yuba College, a JC in Marysville, Calif.
"He's a real good guy," Asiata said of Pau. "I love that guy."
Asiata said he played three downs in his only game at McKinley and quit the team. That was the extent of his football experience prior to Yuba.
UNLV assistant Kris Cinkovich found Asiato there and knew the 6-foot-4, 325-pound raw athlete had a good chance of succeeding in Division I. After redshirting last fall and a great spring camp, Asiata emerged as a starter.
"When Kris brought us the film, we all got on board right away," said offensive line coach Keith Uperesa, a former Punahou standout. "He has the footwork, agility. He's got the tools. He learned very quickly. He graded out at about 75-80 percent against Wisconsin, not bad for his second Division I game."
Of course, Uperesa checked out Asiata's background.
"He's learned the hard way," Uperesa said. "He's good in the classroom."
Youth Challenge and football gave him discipline and purpose. He said his father, Taeao, and church at Word of Life with Pau, Lafaele and Laeli, also provided direction.
"My dad is a security guard and raised six of us," Asiata said. "A lot of people didn't expect anything from me. I have to thank my dad, and God first."