Prep football: Highland star Bryan Mone forced to grow up in a hurry
They call Bryan Mone a man among boys on the football field.
They call him that because of his sheer size, because his calves are as big as boys' thighs, his thighs are as big as tree trunks, and his No. 52 jersey strains to cover his massive shoulders. They call him a man because his strength can best two others his age, pushing them back as his feet churn against the turf.
They call him a man because when he barks orders at the line of scrimmage, boys silently obey. Players nod at him as he shouts in his deep growl.
Most of those who call Bryan Mone a man never have watched him feed his brother.
To the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Mone, this is being a man: Wiping your brother's chin as a spoonful of his lunch dribbles out of the corner of his mouth. It is giving your brother a drink when he's so thirsty that he bangs on your door, unable to articulate what he feels or what he wants.
"He's the head of the family," Bryan said, dangling a piece of cantaloupe by his brother's mouth. "He runs things around here."
Bryan's brother, Filimone Mone, is 22 years old. He never has been able to feed himself. He wears a diaper, which often is Bryan's responsibility to change. He very nearly is blind, only capable of seeing bright lights. He can't recognize his family members. He can't watch a football game.
Filimone never has been able to say "thank you" to Bryan. He doesn't have to, because Bryan is the one who is grateful.
The teen tells him as much every day with his actions when he cleans, feeds and watches over Filimone: Thank you for my life. Thank you for giving me football. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a man.
Between caring for his brother and dealing with some family turmoil just in the past year, Mone has had to grow up in a hurry. He's managed to balance his home life with the pressures of being a national football recruit, a remarkable feat to those around him. But in Mone's family, it also is expected.
"That's our main thing: We want him to stay humble and be a good person no matter what happens to him," said Latu Lauhingoa, Bryan's sister. "Even if he plays in the NFL someday, if his attitude is no good, we won't be happy."
Bryan Mone wouldn't have played football if it wasn't for his brother.
Filimone was born in Fiji. His parents, Havili and Sela Mone, didn't know something was wrong until he was almost a year old. He didn't act like other babies they would play with him and wave their hands in front of his face, but Filimone's blank stare was unchanging.
"They just thought he was blind," Latu said. "They didn't know how handicapped he was."
The family doesn't have a name for Filimone's affliction, but they know its reality.
Filimone was a big boy. He was much bigger than many children his age, and he might have been as big as Bryan in another life. But his body was racked with seizures, his muscles stopped growing and his limbs contorted.
Bryan was born in California as his family searched for a way to treat Filimone's sickness. The answer was in Utah, where a job as a minister opened for Havili. There would be resources there to take care of their sick son.
If not for Filimone's medical needs, the family would have stayed in Tonga no football, no scholarship offers.
"It reminds me to live my life to the fullest," Bryan said. "I have to do it for my brother."
Their relationship wasn't always easy. When Bryan was young, he would get irritated when Filimone fixed himself inches away from the television so he could see the light from the screen.
Bryan learned patience as he grew to be twice Filimone's size. He learned to not hold grudges or get hurt by his brother's actions.
"In this household, you have to be patient," Latu said. "Otherwise you're going to get pretty frustrated."
A star is born
Brody Benson remembers when he saw the tall, skinny boy wander over to a spring practice. He had no cleats.
But the Highland football coach was quick to welcome Bryan into his program. Benson was sure he had found a future star by the end of Bryan's freshman year.
"He definitely possessed some skill back then," Benson said.
Bryan didn't feel like a star. Practices left him winded, and he thought about quitting. But his peers encouraged him, and he started gaining weight before his sophomore year. He started adding plates to his bench press, started pushing around older kids on the practice field.
Those early days have morphed into Rams legend. Bryan leveled a West star running back in his first game.
"Really early in the game, he just broke through the line and hit that kid so hard," linebacker Adam Webber said. "We were all like, 'Crap, he's good.' "
Colleges started picking up on what his teammates and coaches saw: a big, quick athlete who could tear up an offensive line on his own. Recruiting was a foreign concept to Bryan.
"He was like, 'Why are coaches coming after me?' " Benson said. "That just stems back to him being who he is: a really humble kid who doesn't see himself as a standout."
Still, Bryan puffs up his chest on the field. His on-field persona is "mean and nasty," an attitude that led Highland to run for more than 3,000 yards last year with Bryan as one of the team's guards. It helped Bryan pile up 73 tackles working from both the defensive tackle and end spots.
But off the field, "mean and nasty" doesn't really describe Bryan. He's a 3.3 GPA student, according to Benson. He's a churchgoing kid. He sometimes has his teammates come over when he's babysitting his brother, and they watch him care for Filimone unashamed.
He treats his fellow Rams the same way. They are his brothers.
"You can go to him when you have a problem," fellow lineman Pita Tonga said. "As much as anybody, he is really caring."
Growing up quickly
There have been times when Bryan has needed his team as much as it needs him.
Bryan's father was suspended and subsequently removed as pastor of his Tongan United Methodist Church last year after being charged with failing to report child abuse.
If Havili finishes 50 hours of community service by January as part of an agreement with the West Valley Court, the charge will be wiped from his record. But the schism in the church and the seismic changes under the family's feet have left an imprint much harder to erase.
In the fall of 2012, Havili temporarily moved to Hawaii in compliance with the church's wishes for him to leave Utah. The rest of the family stayed behind to care for Filimone.
Familiar faces grew distant. Pressure from the church intensified. The Mones moved from their home in the parsonage to a house a few blocks away. It felt like another planet.
They considered moving to California to escape the turmoil, but the Highland High community convinced them to stay.
Benson handled Bryan's recruiting, and he set him up with tutors to keep up with school. The team wrote letters to the Methodist church leadership, asking them to permit Havili to live with his family in Utah.
Football seemed to be the only happy thing in their lives. Friday nights replaced Sunday mornings as the most anticipated time of the week.
Every letter Bryan received from a college UCLA, Oregon State, Wisconsin seemed to lift off a piece of the shroud draped over their family.
"My parents didn't even care what was inside the mail," Latu said. "They'd say, 'Look, Bryan got another letter!' It kept them happy."
Latu, 25, began providing for the family. Bryan also had a job: Stay on track for a scholarship. Make a better life for himself.
The pressure would have overwhelmed almost any teenager in Bryan's shoes.
But Bryan thrived.
If he harbored anger or resentment for the turbulence off the field, he found ways to take it out on the other team. Bryan's junior year was when he started realizing his potential, Benson said.
The family saw him grow as well.
"He realized he had to step up his role in the family," Latu said. "We wanted him to make something out of his own life, and he did it. It was like football made his frustrations go away."
Counting his blessings
Bryan made up his mind on a church retreat.
He had gone with a friend, Michigan running back Sione Houma. When Bryan came home, he told Benson he wanted to be a Wolverine.
Michigan had offered him a scholarship first. The coaches were excited to have him. Bryan liked the opportunities for his education.
He made a verbal commitment in February and hasn't wavered. That wouldn't be Bryan, Benson said.
The Mone family will have to adjust when Bryan leaves for school. The family will stay in Utah, not eager to uproot Filimone and start over again.
Havili hoped his son might stick closer to home, where he still could be a presence in their lives and help out with Filimone. But his parents also want his future to be in his own hands.
"We are very happy for him to go to Michigan," Havili said. "We will miss him, but we give him our blessing and look forward to his success."
Bryan Mone file
• Highand High senior defensive lineman
• 6-foot-4, 320 pounds
• Had 73 tackles, three sacks as a junior
• Committed to play defensive tackle at Michigan
• Played guard for one of the state's top rushing attacks
• Ranked No. 76 nationally among 2014 football prospects by ESPN
• Rated the fifth-best defensive tackle prospect by Scout
Prep football Trib Talk
O Mountain Crest and Highland gave us a taste Thursday night, but the prep football season kicks off in full on Friday night with a 49-game schedule.
Please join The Salt Lake Tribune's Jennifer Napier-Pearce when she hosts a live video chat on Friday at 2:30 p.m. with the paper's chief prep writers, Chris Kamrani and Aaron Falk, and prep editor Kevin Winters Morriss to preview the upcoming season.
The panel will discuss the biggest issues going into 2013, including the UHSAA's move to six football classifications, as well handicapping the region and state championship races. Who are the contenders? Who are the players to watch? Check in Friday and find out.
Prep football schedule
Mountain Crest at Highland, 7 p.m.
Note • All games at 7 p.m.
Alta at East
Am. Fork at Brighton
Bear River at N Sanpete
Beaver at Cyn. View
Bonneville at Viewmont
Bountiful at Lone Peak
Carbon at Grand
Cedar at Grantsville
Corner Cyn. at Juan Diego
Davis at Copper Hills
Delta at Morgan
Dixie at Springville
Enterprise at Diamond Ranch
Fremont at Jordan
Granger at Riverton
Hillcrest at Salem Hills
Hurricane at Skyline
Juab at Millard
Kearns at Taylorsville
Layton at Hunter
Layton Chr. at Duchesne
Logan at Northridge
Manti at Mtn. View
Mon. Valley at Whitehorse
Murray at Lehi
N. Sevier at ALA
N. Summit at Altamont
Olympus at Cottonwood
Orem at Pleasant Gr.
Parowan at Milford
Payson at Provo
Pine View at Judge
Richfield at Kanab
Roy at Clearfield
San Juan at Snow Cyn.
Sky View at Timpview
S. Sevier at Gunnison
Park City at S Summit
Stansbury at Desert Hills
Summit Aca. at Emery
Syracuse at Box Elder
Timpanogos at Wasatch
Tooele at Cyprus
Uintah at Ogden
Union at Ben Lomond
Weber at West
W. Jordan at Herriman
Westlake at Spanish Fk.
Woods Cross at Maple Mtn.
Bonneville (Idaho) at Bingham, 7 p.m. TribPreps podcast
The TribPreps team discusses this prep football week's news and notes in our inaugural TPR: Trib Preps Radio. You can find a link to the podcast at tribpreps.com or search for it in the iTunes Store.