Cottonwood Heights • Pacing alone on the damp football field and absolutely alone for one of the few times in his young life, Osa Masina looks out on a junior varsity game at Brighton High School and suddenly stops.
He sees a game. He hears tackles and cheers and plays being called.
Holding his dark blue helmet, the patented Bengal paw print pressed into the side of it, Masina hears a fan scream out his name. He turns around, smiles and lifts his helmet in acknowledgment before turning toward the black tunnel under the school’s compound along the Wasatch Front bench, walking into the shadows unaccompanied.
It is a time of solace for one of the state’s most sought-after and talented recruits. A step back from the flood of text messages, phone calls, Twitter messages and stacks of letters he and his family sift through as a group once a week.
Life is busy — and under the microscope — for the 6-foot-4, 218-pound athlete who just turned 16 in June.
“He’s had to adapt to that lifestyle of making a conscious effort on social media, with people he hangs out with and in life a little more than a lot of 16-year-olds,” said Tamina Masina, who is the mother of four Masina boys.
That adaptation is due to his emerging and evolving talent as a running back, linebacker and wildcat quarterback.
He owns offers from BYU, Utah and Utah State, but, unlike many talented in-state recruits, Osa Masina has visited The Big House, toured Camp Randall and seen Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, Ind.
Offers from Michigan, Wisconsin and Notre Dame are there, along with Oklahoma, Stanford, UCLA and Washington. Brighton coach Ryan Bullett said Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide have started their pitch, too.
Osa, the second-youngest of four brothers, has seen the recruiting process first hand. He saw older brothers Loi and Uaea go through it. Both now are playing football at the University of Utah.
“The way he faces the media, handles the process, you can tell this is not the first time he’s seen it,” said ESPN.com’s West Coast recruiting coordinator, Erik McKinney. “He’s figured out early how to figure this stuff out. On the field, it’s his versatility. You look at the guy and your first thought is, ‘Where does he play?’ — but in a good way.”
Which has led him to the top of recruiters’ boards on a nationwide scale and into the realm of being massaged by some of the biggest names in college football. Fans across the country know him and have taken photos of him and his family visiting campuses and in various restaurants. Then they posted them to sites and blogs, Tamina Masina said.
Each night after dinner and homework or hanging out with friends, Osa takes to his cellphone and goes through the onslaught of returning texts, calls and Twitter direct messages.
Anonymous numbers get in contact, pleading for him to go here or go there.
“That’s the hardest part,” Osa said, “figuring out what’s best for me and where I want to go.”
Loi Masina, a walk-on defensive back at Utah and the oldest of the four brothers, said the family keeps the burgeoning recruit far away from Cloud 9. If the opportunity presents itself, they’ll get him out of his room and engaged with the family.
“I think of how he’s kind of blown up and everyone is treating him like a superstar athlete, but I just treat him like a little brother — not changing anything,” Loi said.
That’s Osa’s approach to the madness and inevitability of recruitment.
When some spare time pops up, he tries not to think about the hoard of messages and hints. He thinks about being with his friends, about being a 16-year-old who wants to be nothing more than a junior in high school.
“I just don’t let myself get involved,” he said. “Just hang out with good people, go home and get your business done.”
On Friday nights, Osa’s business is scoring touchdowns and smacking the nearest offensive player to the floor. Bullett said his star predictably has intangibles coaches can’t coach, adding that his talent allows him to transition mistakes into roars from the crowd.
“Sometimes you teach kids not to do something, but he’s so athletic he can get there,” Bullett said. “He does some unorthodox things. He has that ability.”
The impending decision and looming courtships will continue and decisions will need to be made — more schools to circle or cross off the list.
That’s the life of a high-profile, uncommitted high school football recruit.
As Tamina Masina noted, her son must think consciously about what color his outfit will be every day to ward off any inclination that he’s leaning one way or another.
“He’s not living in the attention, although he’s just part of it,” she said.
Osa is. At one point, the family pondered changing his number because it never stopped buzzing.
They didn’t, and the phone continues to buzz with new names and schools on the other end waiting to pull back the introductory curtain.
“I’m interested in all schools right now,” Osa said. “I’m keeping my mind open to every school, so I’m pretty happy as it is.”
Before disappearing into the silhouette of the tunnel, Masina took a seat on the concrete fence. His eyes were fixated on the action, a rare instance in which his name didn’t reign supreme over the PA system.
Year • Junior
School • Brighton
Position • Running back/linebacker