Prep football: East’s Tennessee Su’e Su’e overcomes heart defect to chase dream
Tennessee Su’e Su’e, who was told he’d never play football because of a heart defect, signs to play at Boise State.
Published: February 5, 2014 03:03PM
Updated: February 6, 2014 01:21PM
Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune East High School's Tennessee Su'eSu'e, looks over papers with his mother Sina and father Helaman before signing a letter of intent to play for Boise State in a signing ceremony at East High School Wednesday morning February 5, 2014. He overcame a heart condition to become a D-I football recruit.

East offensive lineman Tennessee Su’e Su’e remembers the moment with clarity. He hearkens back to it as he relaxes on a couch in his living room. His parents sit to the right of him. They nod as he shares the story because they know the path he has taken.

It was August 23, East’s season-opener against Alta. Su’e Su’e sat in the locker room, surrounded by his teammates and listening as coaches gave motivational speeches. He saw the emotion in their eyes. He closed his.

Su’e Su’e had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat when he was eight. Doctors told him he’d never play sports again. But he sat in the locker room nearly 10 years later, ready to prove them wrong.

“I just thought to myself how it had been a journey for me to get this far,” Su’e Su’e said. “Being able to still play football and now playing full contact, with no limits or anything, I was just amazed.”

Six months after that moment, Su’e Su’e on Wednesday morning had another one he’ll remember for a long time. There were orange and blue balloons and there were hugs and there were smiles. He touched pen to paper and he became a Boise State signee. His parents stood behind him, emotion lining the creases of their faces.

“It truly was a miracle for our family,” his mother, Sina Su’e Su’e, said from her living room, days before signing day. “Anytime we saw him with the pads on, thinking back to where we were 10 years ago, it’s been an amazing journey for all of us.”

But Tennessee Su’e Su’e’s story is not just about football. It is about life and not taking it for granted. Sina Su’e Su’e’s voice trembles slightly as she tells how her son nearly died the day they found out about his condition.

“They had to shock his heart back to normal,” she said. “You could see his heart on the monitor and it was going fast. … The reality of him not sitting next to me right now was very close.”

After Tennessee Su’e Su’e recovered from that scare to lead a mostly normal life, his situation changed again during his freshman year, when he was attending West. A successful cardiac ablation surgery gave him hope, however slight, of playing football again.

“In my head I was kind of doubting it, honestly,” he said. “Because if I could have been playing sports, they would have done it a long time ago.”

He was right to be skeptical. A setback forced him to sit out most of his freshman season and all of his sophomore year. But when he transferred to East, where his father, Helaman, coaches the defensive line, he found unexpected success. He became a starter, then he became a star, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in the state for two seasons. Then on Wednesday he became something he never thought he’d be — a Division I football signee.

“It’s just crazy, just to know that everything is real,” he said Wednesday. “Now that signing day is here, and I’m standing right here in front of the tables, it’s just a true blessing to sign with Boise State.”

Twitter: @BubbaSLTrib

Where are Utah’s prep stars headed?

Utah football players committed to play out of state:

Sam Bennion • Logan, DE, Colorado

Kenyon Frison • Granger, OT, Oklahoma

Nick Heninger • Bingham, LB, Mesa Community College

Bryan Mone • Highland, DT, Michigan

Mack Richards • Alta, WR, Hawaii

Korey Rush • East, DE, Nevada

Dalton Schultz • Bingham, TE, Stanford

Christian Shaver • Jordan, DE, Colorado

Tennessee Su’e Su’e • East, OL, Boise State

Mahonrai Toki • Bingham, DL, Mesa Community College

Ula Tolutau • East, RB, Wisconsin

Kendall Tu’ua • Timpview, RB, Air Force