Setema Gali, Jr., almost became a Ute until he saw 18 title rings

As a kid growing up in the shadows of Cougar Stadium, he dreamed of playing there someday.

He dreamed of wearing the helmet and the shoulder pads, and have the crowds cheer for him just as it cheered for Jason Buck and Robbie Bosco, and the other players he watched growing up. His dream almost didn't come true when as a high school senior he committed to attend the University of Utah. Instead, he now anchors a tough, hard-nosed defensive front for BYU.

Setema Gali, Jr., or Junior as his family calls him, is a formidable 6-4, 265-pound defensive end, and one of the best in the conference. Setema, which means "month of September," was actually born in July, but was named after his father, Setema Gali, Sr., who was born in September (the proper pronunciation is seh-TE-muh NAW-lee).

It is hard to imagine Gali, who was named to the second team All-Mountain West Conference last season and is a preseason all-conference selection this season, as a skinny high school kid who dreaded going to practice.

"I hated going to practice. I used to make excuses so I wouldn't have to go," Gali said. "I wasn't very good until my junior and senior years in high school. I was too skinny."

Gali is friendly and outgoing, and referred to by friends as a crazy, religious guy. Not to mention talented. He plays an array of instruments including the guitar, drums, piano and ukulele. He is also known for his singing and dancing. Once a member of the musical group "One Heart," his singing is now confined to the locker room and the practice field, among other places.

"Music is a family thing. Our family is very talented. Polynesians are blessed with that ability...most of them," he said laughing.

"I'm either quiet and relaxed or singing and joking," said Gali. "Singing relaxes me and really lets things flow. It makes me happy. To me, we're supposed to be happy and have joy. Whether it be tackling someone or not." That is why you will often see Gali help an opponent up off the ground after making a tackle.

Setema is a role model for others, and attributes his success to a strong faith and trust in God. One of the persons who have influenced Setema in his life is his father.

"My dad came from a very humble background, and taught me the importance of humility, hard work, having a good time and even joking around." Another person to have a profound influence on Setema was his 9th grade seminary teacher, Craig Ostler.

"He really shaped my life. He planted the seeds to help me make good choices," said Gali. "Brother Ostler was interested in my personal life and always asked how practice was going and how I was doing. He taught the gospel well and helped me gain my own testimony."

Ostler was such a special influence in Gali's life, that Setema wants to be a seminary teacher himself someday.

"I would love to teach Seminary or Institute," said Gali. "My biggest desire is to help people. I like to see people happy, and growing and learning. I want to help others the way he (Ostler) helped me."

As a high school All-American at Mountain View High School in Orem, Setema committed to play football at rival University of Utah. They made a real effort in recruiting him and told him he would win championships there.

Determined to get him to play at BYU, Setema's high school coach called him into an office where three BYU coaches were waiting, including Defensive Line Coach Tom Ramage. Ramage told him if he wanted to be a champion, he should come play at BYU. He then proceeded to pull out a variety of 18 championship rings to persuade Setema.

"His eyes got big, and I think those championship rings got his attention," recalls Ramage. "I can't say that is why he changed his mind, but he decided to come to BYU after all."

Setema redshirted in 1994 and for the next two years had no affiliation with football. Instead, he was busy serving an LDS Church mission in Guam Micronesia.

"I'll never forget my first day in my first area. I was going to the Island of Chuuk," recalls Gali. "I was out in the ocean in a little boat that I could barely fit in. The driver stopped about 40 yards from shore and told me I had to get out because the boat couldn't get any closer.

"I took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pants and started walking towards the shore, carrying all my luggage," said Setema, laughing. "When I got to shore, another missionary asked me if I was ready.

"We then climbed a hill for 15 minutes in the pouring rain to get to our house. I was soaking wet and it was so humid. We got to our house, which was a little 12 X 12 foot hut with no electricity. We used lanterns for light. It was the most humbling experience of my life. The mission was hard but I loved it," he added.

Setema relates his mission to football.

"It's (football) not going to be easy. Anything of great value is going to be hard, but God magnifies the efforts of the diligent. Football like the mission is not easy, but it's worth it," explains Gali.

It is a good thing Gali learned those valuable truths on his mission, because playing football for BYU would not be any easier. Football presented its own set of challenges. Challenges Setema would become all too familiar with his first two years back playing football. He knew it wasn't going to be easy...and it wasn't.

A number of injuries those first two years prevented Setema from receiving extended playing time. He suffered a pulled groin, a strained abdomen, various concussions, a fractured tibia, a separated shoulder and various shoulder surgeries during those two years of football after his mission.

"We work so hard in the off-season, and it is disappointing to go down with injuries," he said.

After the 1997 season, Setema said he was so frustrated that he thought of quitting football. The Cougar faithful are glad he stuck it out, while he has opponents wishing he had quit.

Gali keeps it all in perspective though and even relates football to life.

"You're going to go through a lot of ups and downs in life, just like in football. It's difficult, but you have to endure," he explained, as if a seasoned seminary teacher leading a discussion with a group of young students. "You can never get hurt for giving your best. You can never quit."

Gali had high expectations for himself going into his junior (1999) season. His biggest accomplishment in his football career came last season. The season was not developing as he had planned and it seemed that he would not reach the goals he set of having 10 sacks and being named all-conference. Midway through the season he had no sacks, but remained confident in his abilities.

He ended the season with three sacks against Marshall to give him exactly 10 for the season. Gali was also named second team All-Mountain West Conference. He persevered and accomplished his goals.

Coaches and fans alike are glad Gali came to BYU and has persevered through all his ups and downs. He is fulfilling his life-long dream. He is wearing the helmet and the shoulder pads, and hearing the Cougar Stadium crowd cheer him on.

What's with all the "Juniors" ?

Namesake is another title for Setema Gali, Jr., as well all others who are given the moniker "Junior" on their birth certificate.

There are lots of "Juniors" out there in the sports world, most notably baseball's Ken Griffey, Jr., and Polynesians Junior Seau and Junior Ah You. Griffey is commonly known as Junior throughout the major leagues. Seau of San Diego Charger football fame has the given name of Tiaina Seau, Jr. And Junior Ah You terrorized Coach LaVell Edwards' early BYU football teams as he played for Arizona State. Then there is Junior Bryant, a defensive end who plays for the San Francisco 49ers and played twice against BYU for Notre Dame.

"Junior" has been associated with several BYU football players, too. Junior Filiaga was a strong defensive lineman who played for BYU from 1979-81. More recently, there's Junior Pili, who played for the Cougars in 1987, the older brother of Ifo, who was on the defensive line with Gali in 1998 before serving his mission to Riverside, Calif. Also on the 1998 BYU team was running back Junior Mahe.

In addition to Gali, there are a couple other juniors on this year's BYU team-Margin Hooks and T.J. Sitake.

"They call me Junior all the time at home so I don't get confused with my Dad," says Hooks.

But there is a Polynesian background to the name Junior, too.

"Nicknames are used as a term of endearment among Polynesians," says David "Boy" Eldredge, former BYU baseball player and now assistant coach for the Cougars. "It's a pride thing to be named after your father."

Eldredge explains the term "Boy" is often used in the same way as "Junior" among Polynesians. Eldredge says he was one of three players on his high school basketball team in Hawai'i who were called "Boy," so they had to further distinguish them as "Boy E,", "Boy T," and "Boy G."

"Just as "Boy" is used as a term of endearment in Hawai'i, the similar common name for girls is "Tita," which translates as "sister," says Eldredge.

"Whenever I attend a Polynesian get-together around here and someone yells "Hey, Junior," half of the crowd turns their head," says Gali. "I know at least a dozen people who are called "Junior."

Generally the oldest son in a Polynesian family has the name "Junior" associated with him. However, Gali is the second-oldest son in his family, but was named after his father. Gali's older brother was named Wiser after an uncle who died in an automobile accident, so Gali became the namesake of Setema Gali.

Other Cougars who share the same name as their father are Lance Reynolds, Jr., former Cougar Larry Moore, and former BYU quarterbacks Jim McMahon and John Walsh. Reynolds, the son of the BYU offensive coordinator, is a linebacker who signed with the Cougars in 1999 and is currently serving a mission to Arkansas.

In past BYU history there is also James Dye the third (former return specialist) and Hanale Vincent the fourth, an offensive lineman who played for BYU in 1998 and is currently serving a mission to Guatemala.

For the record, there are 26 juniors on BYU's team and 6, 737 juniors at BYU this Fall.