Last week the 6-foot-7, 354 pound behemoth Ahina “Rocky” Aitogi surprised a lot of big-time P5 programs when he picked Brigham Young University to complete his college football career.
The 3-star tackle is rated the 20th best offensive tackle nationally by 247Sports and holds scholarship offers from Arizona, Arkansas State, Colorado State, Delaware State, Kansas, Liberty, Ole Miss, and New Mexico. Aitogi has also seen recruiting interest from Arizona State, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, and USC.
But he picked BYU.
Why BYU of bigger name schools? On the surface, this commitment actually makes a lot of sense.
Just like many others on the BYU football team, Aitogi is Polynesian. And he took a few years off between high school and college (par for the course with BYU players who serve church missions). Oh yeah, he’s also married and has two kids—which is not too unusual at BYU, at least not for the players getting ready to graduate.
But the circumstances surrounding Aitogi’s arrival in Provo are anything but usual—even for BYU.
While Aitogi did grow up on the islands, he actually graduated from high school in Alaska. His mother moved their family there during high school in hopes for a better environment to raise the family. And Aitogi didn’t play any football as a prep but instead focused on basketball.
When he graduated from the Military Academy in 2014 Aitogi didn’t embark on a church mission like so many BYU football players do, but instead joined the Army National Guard. While serving his country he took various jobs in Anchorage to help out at home. As the oldest of five children he felt a responsibility to look after his younger siblings.
Following the advice of a friend from the National Guard, Aitogi made the leap and left Alaska, relocating to Ephraim, Utah where he sought a walk-on spot on the Snow College basketball team. He had grown considerably since high school and consequently garnered interest from the Badger football coaches who convinced him to join the football team instead as a tight end.
So in 2016 Aitogi was preparing to play football for the first time at Snow College. However, prior to summer camp he received the unfortunate news that his mother was battling skin cancer. Rather than remain and play football he returned home to Alaska to take care of his mother and younger siblings. He was hired as a commercial fisherman and started providing for the family. He felt he needed to “step up” and help put them in a better situation—so he saved his money and helped move the family to Las Vegas where his mother would receive better medical attention.
In Las Vegas Aitogi’s life took some unexpected turns. He decided to take advantage of his size and landed a job in the personal security business. At 20-years-old he was introduced to the high life—flying regularly on private jets to places like Australia and Hong Kong, and he was on-track to make a six-figure income. With his new career on-track he also met one of his greatest life ambitions.
“My greatest accomplishment in life so far was getting Anna Aitogi to say ‘yes’ to me and getting married. Nothing is possible without her.”
They had a child and Aitogi’s commitment, loyalty, and concern for family grew even greater. Not wanting to be so far from his daughter and extended family he made the decision to stop working at that position, but to get a job that would keep him closer to home.
He wrote out a resume and turned to an unlikely place for job leads—Instagram.
“I reached out through Instagram emails listed in artist bios and Lil Pump and his management team contacted me that same day. We Facetimed and they decided to take a chance on a 21-year-old bodyguard to watch over their globally known ‘Gucci Gang.’”
Within 24 hours of entering the job market Aitogi landed a job with Lil Pump—a rising star in the rap industry. And it didn’t take long for Aitogi to do some rising of his own. Within a short period of time he was promoted to head of security, leading a team of seven or eight.
“Shout out to my Tha Lights Global family—Dooney Battle, and Jordan Tugrul. They didn’t know it, but they helped me have a bigger vision for my future.”
That vision was again influenced by Aitogi’s mother, who saw his success in private security, but knew he had other hopes and dreams. She and Zack Williams—a business partner and mentor who spent some time in the NFL with the Panthers—told him to “trust the process” and “go play ball.”
He told the Arizona Daily Star that “I had my family depending on me. I did that [private security] until the winter of 2017 and then my mom had some stability in Vegas and was able to support herself. One day she said, ‘You want to go to school and use your size like everyone has been telling you to go play the sport?’
“I went back to school and went to Long Beach City College in the spring of 2018 and then Fort Scott recruited me out of there.”
In fall 2018—four years removed from high school—22 year-old Aitogi played his very first football game. He continued to grow and at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds he was a force to be reckoned with. Almost immediately he garnered national attention and had a D1 offer one month into the season. Arizona offered the next month and he gave them an early verbal commitment. But as the season wore on more and more recruiters came and offers were extended. He opened his recruitment back up.
So what convinced Aitogi that BYU was the right place for him?
“I chose BYU because it felt like family.”
It is no surprise that the family environment played a major factor in his decision. During that first year of football at Fort Smith (in Kansas) he again felt the pull to be closer to home.
BYU is not just located within driving distance of Las Vegas, but the feeling he experienced on his recruiting visit also showed him that “family” could be right here in Provo. Aitogi has already forged a friendship with BYU’s offensive line coach Eric Mateos, who told him that he “wants to bring the Joe Moore Award (for best offensive line unit) to BYU.”
BYU has a lot of returning talent to the offensive line this fall but could definitely benefit by adding some depth. The coaching staff hopes that he’ll be the next Ziggy Ansah (another BYU project that panned out o.k.).
Aitogi will play this season at Fort Smith and then join the Cougars in January.