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Utah State football flips Utes commit East TE Joe Tukuafu

Published February 4, 2014 8:37 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Joe Tukuafu went into East football coach Brandon Matich's office on Monday, a decision pulling him in different directions. Although he had committed to the Utes months earlier, a recent visit to Logan had him rethinking the decision.

Matich, who identifies as a Utah fan, said the senior tight end had to make his own call.

"I said, 'I can't tell you what to do,'" Matich said. "'At the end of the day, you're the one who needs to live with your decision and be happy with it. Whatever you decide, I'm going to be behind you.'"

A day later, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound two-star tight end has switched his commitment to Utah State. Tukuafu said he called coach Matt Wells on midday Tuesday to let him know that he wanted to play for the Aggies after his LDS Church mission.

"It was 100 percent my own decision," he said. "I just really like the atmosphere and the feel of the Logan community. There were a lot of reasons, but that was one big one."

For Utah State, getting Tukuafu's commitment represents a recruiting victory in the backyard of one of the program's biggest rivals. The Aggies managed to pull in the commitment of an athlete whose father, Pasa Tukuafu, played football at Utah and who went to high school less than a mile from Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Tukuafu was a two-way athlete for East, gaining over 700 receiving yards and catching eight touchdowns while adding 47 tackles and 6.5 sacks as the Leopards played in the 4A state championship game.

"He's a really good athlete: He's deceptively fast, and I've seen him get develop his body over the last few years," Matich said. "He's still got a ways to go, and he has a really high ceiling. I think Utah State got a heck of a steal on a great player. I do believe he was the best tight end in the state of Utah last year."

What started changing Tukuafu's mind was his visit to the Utah State campus two weekends ago. He had already developed good bonds with coaches Frank Maile and Mark Weber, but he found himself fitting in very well once he was actually up there. Matich said whenever Tukuafu talked about his visit, he lit up.

Part of the decision was carving his own path: He had wanted to go out of state, and he felt like Logan had a feel akin to an out-of-state college town without being too far from home. Tukuafu said although he does think the Pac-12 conference comes with more prestige, it wasn't a huge factor in his decision.

"Conference doesn't mean as much," he said. "I would rather go where my heart is and make a name for myself. That's how I looked at it."

Tukuafu said he talked to his father about both Utah and Utah State, and his family has told him they'll support wherever he wants to go.

Aggies fans probably don't have to worry about a last-second switch. After school on Tuesday, Tukuafu went to go buy Utah State gear for signing his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday. He said he's excited to join other East players bound for Logan, including fellow 2014 class commit Preston Curtis.

Could Utah State's late recruiting push be a sign the Aggies are making a bigger impression on in-state recruits? Tukuafu said yes, and so did Matich, who has seen many of his players start getting taken in by Utah State.

"Utah does a phenomenal job recruiting, but I think some of my kids have really gotten along with Coach Maile, Coach Wells and Coach Weber, those three primary guys who recruit down here," Matich said. "There's no phoniness about them. They make the kids feel loved and at home. The success they've had shows they're really zeroing in on guys."

You can watch Tukuafu's Hudl highlights here.

— Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon