Family, Faith and Football Led Takitaki to BYU
As a young married couple, Vaimaua and Fissipeau Takitaki immigrated to the United States from Tonga. They didn’t know a lick of English, but they hoped to make a better life for themselves and for their future children.
Despite the hardship of moving to a foreign country, Vaimaua and Fissipeau pushed forward, knowing that it would all pay off in the future. The Takitakis instilled the same attitude of enduring through hardship in their children, including their son and current BYU linebacker, Sione, in his life on and off the football field.
Takitaki grew up in California as the youngest of seven children. During his elementary school years, Takitaki’s parents put him into a number of sports. Among baseball, soccer, and countless others, football stood out as Takitaki’s favorite and he pursued it vigorously.
As he continued investing time in football, Takitaki exceled, playing linebacker, defensive tackle and running back at Heritage High School. His contribution to the team even led to a championship win during a losing season for the Patriots. His love for football translated on and off the field. While in uniform Takitaki gave football his all and when he was off the field, he continued prepping for the game by setting out his clothes the night before events and talking football with his dad.
Though these early years on the field led to an intense passion for the sport, he had other motivations that played into his pursuit of the game. While he was an underclassman in high school, Takitaki’s father passed away. Losing his father played a large role in Takitaki’s decision to continue playing in college because Vaimaua had been such a strong supporter of his talents from the sidelines.
“None of our siblings went to college, and I think his biggest motivation was making our dad and our family proud,” said Salaloma Talamalavio, Takitaki’s older sister.
When Takitaki played football as a kid, his father offered continual support at each game. Because of his humble and quiet nature, Vaimaua stood away from his family and the main crowd of spectators so he could cheer on Takitaki without bringing too much attention to his family, himself or his son.
“Our dad was so supportive,” Salaloma said. “He brought a snack for Sione before games and talked to Sione from the stands telling him to play his hardest. When people talked to him about Sione, he was always so humble about it.”
Takitaki’s shyness, humility and desire to be a good man all come from the example that his father set for him.
“His dad was a big role model to him,” said Takitaki’s wife, Alyssa. “Sione wants to become a man like his dad and coming to BYU was Sione’s way of making his dad proud.”
In addition to the quiet nature that he inherited from his father, Takitaki is described by family and teammates as a fearless athlete with a kind heart. “He’s a good person with a good heart and has strong character,” Alyssa said. “His parents raised him to be a good man.”
And though he seems quiet around strangers, Takitaki has a fun and energetic personality that comes out on the football field. “Without Sione on the field there’s no mojo going on with the defense,” said linebacker Butch Pau’u. “But when he’s out there we’re all getting hyped up and enjoying our time together.”
Because his heart was set on playing football in college, Takitaki spent the summers growing up attending BYU camps where he gained more exposure to the program and the school. Takitaki attended BYU’s signing day in 2014 where he made the decision to play for the Cougars.
When he started at BYU that year, Takitaki quickly became an asset. He lettered as a freshman, played in 11 games and recorded 19 tackles at the end of his first season. “Sione brings fearlessness, tenacity and aggressiveness to the team,” Pau’u said. “When he carries that vibe with him, we all gel and play more aggressively.”
After this first successful season and a second under his belt, Takitaki redshirted in 2016 to spend some time focusing on matters off of the field. Though it was a challenge to take time away from football, the year provided him with opportunities to learn and grow as a person. Just weeks after finishing his sophomore season, Takitaki sat in a Church of Jesus Christ sacrament meeting where a talk was given about patience. He believed this message was important for him, and it served as a reminder to stay patient, develop good characteristics and continue pursuing football.
It was also during this year off the field that Takitaki dated and married his good friend, Alyssa Penney, a former swimmer at BYU. The two met each other at a bonfire the summer before their freshmen years at BYU and stayed good friends until they began dating and sealed the deal in the Sacramento California Temple. “Alyssa pushes me in all categories of my life,” he said. “She regrouped me and has been my biggest supporter all around.”
After a year spent growing as an individual, a husband and a football player, Takitaki returned to play for the Cougars in the 2017 season. When he rejoined the team, he was more than ready to show BYU fans how his contribution made a difference on the field. Takitaki led the defense in the home opener against Portland State, recording two sacks. Takitaki’s 2017 season proved to be his most successful yet as he led BYU with 12.5 tackles for loss and was second on the team with 79 overall tackles, including 43 solo stops.
“Sione had a hard time being away from football,” Alyssa said. “He played well in his first game in 2017 and I could see his energy on the field from up in the stands. He was so happy to be back.”
“When Sione returned he was calm and collected,” Pau’u said. “He was able to mature a ton while he was off the field and he came back and was one of the defensive leaders last season.”
To cap it all off, Takitaki received the team’s defensive player of the year award following the season, an award that symbolized his growth as a person and as a player. “Winning defensive player of the year is my biggest achievement right now, but I hope for more in the future,” Takitaki said.
Coming into this season, Takitaki was named to the 2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Watch List. This year he has already earned a College Sports Madness National Defensive Player of the Week for his 13-tackles performance at No. 6 Wisconsin. Takitaki intends to make this year his most successful season yet.
“The window to play football is so small and I need to attack it everyday,” he said. “I only have so many years to play and I want to take advantage of that time.”
People sometimes confuse Sione Takitaki’s last name with Takis, the Barcel snack food. What others don’t know is that original flavored Takis are one of Takitaki’s favorite foods. His wife has even caught him snacking on them in the middle of the night. “My ultimate dream is to be sponsored by Takis so I can have an endless supply,” he said.
In addition to his love for Takis, Takitaki developed an affinity for Chips Ahoy cookies as a child. Each day before a football game, he would crunch up the cookies into a bowl and pour milk on them, eating the cookies like cereal.
Takitaki’s love for snack foods isn’t unusual in the sports world; professional athletes spanning from the NFL to the WWE have secret favorite foods as well. Despite the strict diets most professional athletes maintain during season, a majority of athletes have favorite cheat day and off-season foods. Here’s a sample of famous professional athlete’s foods of choice:
- LeBron James (NBA): Fruity Pebbles
- Marshawn Lynch (NFL): Skittles
- Alex Rodriguez (MLB): Homemade kale chips
- Sidney Crosby (NHL): Chinese food
- Aaron Rodgers (NFL): White cake and ice cream
- Ronda Rousey (WWE): Chicken wings
- Landon Donovan (MLS): In-N-Out burgers
- Luke Kuechly (NFL): Skyline Chili
- Serena Williams (Tennis): South Carolina fried chicken