Kalani Fifita Sitake--One Touchdown Doesn't Represent Thankless Work

He never wanted to be a star.

He wasn't looking for any of the media attention or the fame that could come with playing at a nationally respected Division I program. All he wanted to do was play football and contribute to the team. And since his arrival in 1994, that is exactly what Kalani Sitake has done for BYU.

Six feet tall and 245 pounds, the senior fullback provides a formidable block for BYU running backs to follow up the field. And while he has been called upon occasionally to run the ball and catch a few passes himself, the real measure of his contribution to the Cougar football team cannot be gauged in statistics alone.

Take for example his offensive numbers.

Just past the midway point of the season now, Kalani has played in a total of 45 games over his five-year career at BYU.

In all that time, he has recorded just one career touchdown. His rushing and receiving combined over that period add up to just over 770 yards.

The numbers are not surprising, especially considering that Sitake plays fullback for a team that practically invented the passing game. But the fact is that his role as a Cougar and captain is considerably different from the role he played previously as a Pioneer.

Just before his junior year in high school, Kalani Fifita moved with his family to Kirkwood, Missouri, a small suburb on the west side of St. Louis. According to former defensive coordinator and current Kirkwood High head coach Mike Wade, Kalani "just showed up one day" on the practice field. The Pioneer coaching staff may not have known much about the new kid on the team, but they would soon find out he had come to play.

Looking back now, former Kirkwood head coach Dale Collier says, "I wish we would have had him for four years." Kalani jumped right into the game, making an impact on both sides of the ball. He played linebacker with the defensive squad, and running back on offense. By the end of his first season at Kirkwood, Kalani had amassed over 1200 yards of offense and scored 23 touchdowns.

Apparently his athletic abilities were well suited to the local style of play.

"In the Midwest, they play smash-mouth football," Sitake says of his high school days. "We hardly ever passed the ball; it was straight running."

The Pioneers had a saying that described their offensive mentality-"four and we score"-and Sitake made a habit of doing just that.

But at the same time, his coach saw that there was something else about his star running back that impressed him.

"Kalani had some kind of inner strength," coach Collier said of Sitake's desire to succeed. "He would just go until you'd have to drag him off the field."

While opposing teams began to key on him, Kalani remained the heart of the Pioneer offense during his senior year. He added another 1000 yards and 20 touchdowns to his offensive totals.

He also had over 100 tackles and recorded nearly half a dozen sacks on the defensive end of the field.

After just two years at Kirkwood High, the impression Kalani left on the program was by no means a small one.

The Pioneers have a storied history in this sport.

"We play the oldest high school football west of the Mississippi," coach Collier said. But before Kalani's arrival, the team had been in a bit of a lull. It had been several years since they made it to the state playoffs.

With the success of their new running back, they made back-to-back trips to the state competition.

When several big name schools from the Big Ten began to show interest in Kalani, it seemed only natural that someone with such prowess in the backfield would jump at the opportunity to continue in a power-oriented program. But Kalani had other plans. Playing for the Cougars had been a life-long dream, and that was the opportunity he was looking for.

"A lot of people asked me why I was going to a passing school," Sitake admits. He realized from the beginning that BYU played a different kind of football from the one he had become familiar with.

But at the fullback position, he still had a chance to do what he loved most-"block and hit."

Probably the biggest factor in Sitake's decision to come to BYU was the straightforward offer he received from one of college football's all-time greats.

"When coach Edwards came to see me, he said he wouldn't promise me any glory or fame," Kalani said. "What he did tell me was that if I worked hard, I would get everything I deserved."

Some players may have been disappointed with such a simple promise, but for Sitake it was just what he wanted to hear. The sincerity he felt from LaVell Edwards represented the kind of program he wanted to be around. So from his very first day at BYU, he got right to work.

During his freshman season in 1994, Kalani played in all 13 games for the Cougars. He was a second unit fullback, and also saw action with the special teams. Early on he showed signs of what he was capable of on offense, recording a 41-yard rush in a game against Air Force. The run was BYU's longest of the season.

Sitake missed the 1995 and 1996 seasons to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He spent two years in Oakland, California, but when he returned to Provo, he picked up right where he had left off on the football field.

Kalani started the first three games of the1997 season. He continued to run the ball hard, but he also showed he was a legitimate receiving threat when he made a 30-yard catch against Washington.

Unfortunately, his season was cut short when he underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back. But because the injury came so early in the season, he was granted a medical redshirt, which meant he would still have three more seasons to play.

During the 1998 season, Kalani started 10 of the Cougars' 12 regular-season games, and in 1999 he started in six of the first 9 games of the year. The Cougar offense looked to his pass catching even more, and he made four receptions in a game against San Diego State to earn the coaches' award for his performance. But once again, when things seemed to be going well, he suffered a broken ankle in a game against Wyoming that would put him out for the rest of the season.

So far this year, Kalani has played in all seven games, and he is on pace to top his personal bests in nearly every category. He has carried the ball 14 times for a net gain of 64 yards, and he has caught 11 passes for another 91 yards. This could prove to be Kalani's most successful season yet.

However, as mentioned earlier, it's not about the numbers for him. It never has been.

Even if the everyday fan has trouble appreciating what Sitake has done for BYU when simply looking at the books, the coaching staff certainly recognizes the contributions he has made.

"Kalani has made a major impact on this team," says head coach LaVell Edwards. "With the nature of his position, you don't get the ball very much," Edwards continues, "but he is a great blocker and a very good pass receiver. He's a great leader both on and off the field."

Sitake's leadership has also earned him the respect of his teammates.

"I think the feeling the players have was epitomized when they elected him captain," Edwards said.

Kalani shares the co-captain position this year with fellow seniors Margin Hooks, Jared Lee, and Setema Gali, Jr.

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Lance Reynolds is also well aware of Sitake's role on the team.

"He really wants to win," Reynolds says. "The players respect his desire and his willingness to put it all on the line. To be successful, you have to have guys like that on the team."

It should come as no surprise that Sitake's primary focus is on the success of the team. His high school coaches noticed that about him early on. Even today, when you get a chance to speak with him, you'll likely hear much more about the team than you will about him.

"I love this team," Kalani says. "I have so many great memories of my time here; in a way I don't want it to end."

And as his BYU career draws to a close, he probably never imagined things would be so difficult in his last season.

Then again, when questioned about the current situation, his desire and his faith in the team shine through.

"We've had a tough season," Kalani says, "but we have a chance to make it better.

Right now this is a test of my heart; it's a test of the team's heart. Whenever you test the heart of a champion, the outcome could be dangerous. "We're being tested, and we're stepping up to the challenge."

Lavell's captains through the years Kalani Sitake is one of few Cougars who got the honor of serving as a captain for BYU Coach LaVell Edwards in his 29 years at the helm.

Edwards himself was a two-time captain at Utah State. Ten Cougars got to serve as two-year captains for Edwards at BYU and Ty Detmer was the only three-year captain.

"I first started off with a player council along with captains," said Edwards. Under Edwards, captains were elected. He increased the amount of captains to get a greater cross-section of players to open up two-way communication. Additionally, he allowed a fifth captain each week from the Coaches' Special Teams Player of the Game honors the previous week. However, NCAA rules only allow four players to be on the field for the coin toss.

Year BYU Co-Captains

2000 Kalani Sitake, Margin Hooks, Jared Lee, Setema Gali, Jr.

1999 Kevin Feterik, Jimmy Richards, Rob Morris, Byron Frisch

1998 Kevin Feterik, John Tait, Byron Frisch, Brad Martin

1997 Ben Cahoon, Dustin Johnson, Brad Martin, Spencer Reid

1996 Chad Lewis, Steve Sarkisian, Tim McTyer, Shay Muirbrook

1995 Hema Heimuli, Elias Faupula, Stan Raass, Shay Muirbrook

1994 Jim Edwards, John Walsh, Cory Cook, Travis Hall

1993 Eric Drage, Mike Empey, Lenny Gomes, Todd Herget

1992 Eric Drage, Garry Pay, Derwin Gray, Shad Hansen

1991 Ty Detmer, Peter Tuipulotu, Rocky Biegel, Tony Crutchfield

1990 Ty Detmer, Neal Fort, Alema Fitisemanu, Brian Mitchell

1989 Ty Detmer, Fred Whittingham, Bob Davis, Chad Robinson

1988 Chuck Cutler, Phil Nauahi, Troy Long, Rodney Rice

1987 John Borgia, Bob Jensen, David Futrell, Thor Salanoa

1986 Mark Bellini, Lakei Heimuli, Jason Buck, Ladd Akeo

1985 Robbie Bosco, Glen Kozlowski, Kurt Gouveia, Leon White

1984 Craig Garrick, Glen Kozlowski, Jim Herrmann, Kyle Morrell

1983 Doug Kellermeyer, Steve Young, Brandon Flint, Todd Shell

1982 Neil Balholm, Bart Oates, Tom Holmoe, Mike Morgan

1981 Calvin Close, Jim McMahon, Mark Brady, Kyle Whittingham

1980 Nick Eyre, Eric Lane, Glen Redd, Bill Schoepflin

1979 Marc Wilson, Tom Bell, Gary Kama, John Neal

1978 Marc Wilson, Bill Ring, Ross Varner, Rod Wood

1977 Gifford Nielsen, Lance Reynolds, Mekeli Ieremia, Rod Wood

1976 Gifford Nielsen, Jeff Blanc, Blake Murdock, Bill Rice

1975 Brad Oates, Phil Jensen, Gary Shaw, Clark Carlson

1974 Brad Oates, John Betham, Larry Carr

1973 Dave Coon, Dave Atkinson

1972 Dan Hansen, John Monahan, Pete VanValkenburg