From the archives: Come Back, Jack

From the archives of Cougar Illustrated, Sept. 24, 1994

 

Stamp marks fill the quartered 17 passport pages of senior BYU defensive back Jack Damuni because he was transferred so many times.

Last year he made his final transfer, but this time it was as a football player form Dixie college. His prior 42, yes 42, transfers (and companions) came as a Mormon missionary who circulated through the island of Guam 18 times within the Mircronesian Mission.

It seemed like I got transferred every week," says the 5-foot-9 Damuni, a vibrant, fun-loving pure Fijian from Laie, Hawai`i. "If a missionary was having a hard time or depressed, I was sent to liven him up."

Damuni has brought similar life to the Cougar secondary through his play and his humor.

First, his play, especially in last season's San Diego State game brought new life to BYU, breaking a for-game losing streak. Jack nearly single-handedly was responsible for the SDSU defeat.

In the third quarter he was playing out of position in zone coverage. He intercepted Aztec quarterback Tim Gutierrez on the goal line, stopping what appeared to be a sure red and black touchdown.

"It was a 'bullet' call when I read the running back," says Jack. "Something was telling me to run toward the end zone and just stand there. When I looked up I saw the quarterback was tarring straight at me."

It was BYU's third interception of the year and enabled John Walsh to pass a 63-yard touchdown to Steve Christensen to make the score, 38-31, BYU after the PAT.

Later in the fourth quarter, Damuni teamed with linebacker Nathan Hall to preserve victory when they stopped Guitierrez on a two-point conversion attempt in the 45-44 victory.

"There was no receiver on my side, just a tight end," remembers Damuni, who noticed the change for the first time in the evening. "I saw the igght end stay home to block and I saw the hole open. I went for the ball when I saw it fumbling on the ground and Nate was closing in, too"

Because of these two plays, Jack has fund teasing his new safety coach Barry Lamb, who was on Al Luginbill's now-departed coaching staff, about that night.

"I'm the reason you are here," says Damuni to Lamb, who joins DeWayne Walker as new coaches in the BYU secondary this season.

And football is the reason Jack is now at BYU, too. Football wasn't kind to Jack early in his 28-year-old life.

He was cut form every team, but finally begged his way back on the squad as a high school senior

After graduating in 1984 from Kahuku High in Laie, Hawai`i, teammates thought it would be the last time he wore pads.

Jack thought differently and followed a friend to Dixie College after working two years at the nearby Polynesian Culture Center.

When a scholarship didn't materialize after a few weeks in St. George, he packed his bags to return to the PCC.

He had danced at the PCC since he was five years old. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Emosi, a professional dancer who performed in many of the islands' big shows.

"I was an all-around dance," says Jack, who commanded standing ovations rare to performances. "I danced in every culture's section. I still can do it right now. I can eat fire, but I don't like doing it."

Fame orange-colored hair a la Dennis Rodman (his hero)sometimes appears in the locks of Damuni, illustrating his free-spirited inhibitions.

"I like Dennis Rodman because he just goes out there and does his job the best way he can so that his team can win despite the criticism or negative feedback he gets."

Tongaan is the language Jack tested out of for 16 hours at BYU last year, although he is also fluent in Fijian, English, Trukese (Micronesian) and speaks Samoan. Truk was the main language he learned on his mission where he was one on an island so small that he proselyted the entire land mass in 45 minutes.

He spent three Christmas holidays away from home because he advanced and extended mission preparation.

Following his mission, he tried enrolling again at Dixie where he was successful in teaming with his brother Waqa. Waqa was a 6-foot-4, 250 outside linebacker who is now on a mission to Monterrey, Mexico.

At Dixie the taunts of age began when people called Jack a "grandpa." Damuni responds,  "want to race?" Then he often triumphs with his 4.3-4.5 forty speed.

"Most people can't tell how old I am," says Damuni, not revealing his 28-year-old demeanor. "When they say I'm 22 or 23, I say, 'Man, how did you guess?' Age shouldn't matter, it's just a number. It's what is in your heart.

"I feel sorry for the students who have to work after going to class. I know I'd better take advantage of the opportunities football has given me.

"If I could start all over again, I feel I could accomplish anything. There's only one way to go and that's to get an education and stay close to the Lord. Maybe I can have a good effect on someone to show it's never too late. To stay young, I try to act like a kid and I am having fun."

Damuni's heart and determination are an inspiration to many to reach for the stars. He is among the first Fijians to become accomplished in Division One football. In the Fijian language, "domoni" means love.

Damuni's parents intended their fourth-born child among six siblings to be a special person, so they named him after their Methodist preacher, Jack Smith. Jack Smith Damuni says people sometimes thing he got his middle name from Joseph Smith, but it wasn't until 1970 that Mormonism was embraced by any of the family.

One of the Mormon examples for Jack was Ken Niumatalolo, now a wide receivers coach for the University of Hawai`i. Not only was Niumatalolo an example for Jack to change his lifestyle, a few years later he nearly recruited Damuni to be a member of the Rainbow Warriors.

"I nearly signed with UH," recalls Damuni. "The day I went on my recruiting trip to Honolulu, I called Coach (Tom) Ramage (BYU defensive line and special teams' coach) and told him I was going to UH.

"Later when I was re-evaluating, I thought I might regret it for the rest of my life and wasn't able to live with that decision."

BYU feelings were weaved in jack for many years. Earlier in his life he was the first friend of Lakei Heimuli, a former Cougar fullback when Lakei first moved from Tonga to Hawai`i.

At that time he recalls Hema as a young boy who ran around without a shirt on the street. Jack was a teammate of Talio Magalai, who had signed in the `80s with BYU.

Jack played against future Cougars Alema and Tau Harrington in football and played against future WAC Cougar Alema Fitisemanu in Church basketball.

And of course, it helps to have had his girlfriend Shalei Mossman, from Maui to have graduated from BYU, along with a master's from the University of Utah.

Jack also would like to get a master's or complete a double major with an emphasis in sociology.

Now that Damuni is in Provo and cracked the starting lineup with five games remaining .ast season, Cougar fans are hoping for more of what he demonstrated against SDSU or the U. of U.

Against the Utes, All-American wide receiver Bryan Rowley caught his record-setting touchdown in the first quarter off of Damuni. Jack responded by snaring a pair of interceptions.

"Because I knew Rowley liked to run post or streak patterns and not curls, I sprinted straight for the ball," says Damuni of his first-quarter interception.

"The second came wen I was playing zone and saw the quarterback look straight at the receiver. I slipped on my run or I think I could have made it straight for a TD."

Had that second interception at the BYU 39-yard-line gone for a TD by Damuni with a minute left in the third quarter, then the score would not have been knotted at 17. As it was, the Cougar drive stalled and the Utes responded with a TD pass.

At Hawai`i he injured his shoulder on the first play of the game, but stayed in for six more plays. It was the fourth play after his injury that he intercepted Rodney Glover.

"I left the Hawai`i game because I couldn't contribute 100 percent," says Jack. "Because I[m not playing, I am helping the team by letting somebody else play who can go full speed. I want to get back to lead the crowd on to cheer, even if I can only raise one hand."

This year, Damuni is not playing like a transfer, but he hopes to transfer some of his enthusiasm to teammates as he happily travels the long road to recovery.

The BYU-Fiji Connection

At last winter's Olympics in Lillehammer, a newspaper headline taunted Sweden with a medal total that read Norway 19, Sweden and Fiji 0.

While Fiji had representation at the Olympic games, it's better known athletes are through wrestling, rugby, golf and track. World Wrestling Federation star Jimmy Superfly Snuka is Fijian and used to live here in Orem. And there is pro golfer Vijay Singh who won last year's PGA Buick Open in a playoff for $180,000.

The republic of Fiji is a western South Pacific nation of 106 inhabited islands with a population over 700,000.

BYU's Jack Damuni, a safety for the Cougars, may be the most accomplished Fijian football player to date. His idol from Fiji is a rugby star Tomasi Cama, who has helped Fiji to three straight world championships.

Two other former Cougars from Fiji made their marks in track in the early 70s. Saimone Taani, from Daria, Bua, Fiji and Usaia Sotutu from Suva helped BYU to Western Athletic Conference titles.

Tamani recorded was the third-best 400-meter mark in BYU history in 46.63, now seventh in school annals, and anchored the current school record 4 X 400 relay team along with All-American Ralph Mann. Sotutu's 8:48.3 was then the second-best time in the steeplechase, now 14th on the Cougar ladder.

"Tamani is one of the most unique, exceptional athletes I remember; he was as fluid as Frank Fredericks," says Coach Willard Hirschi, of the 400-meter man who missed his final years of eligibility because of a foot injury. "It was a tragedy he got hurt."