Cyrus Fa'alogo found himself gaping at the crowd around him in a modestly sized yet packed gym in Tijuana, Mexico. All this for a volleyball tournament?
The fans were ravenous: They wanted his autograph, they wanted pictures with him, they fawned over him like a celebrity. When the U.S. Boys Youth National Team were in the huddle, they could hardly hear each other.
"I got excited knowing all eyes were going to be on me," the 17-year-old setter says. "I was going to have to prove myself more and show I could hang."
The wild fervor of the July tournament bringing the top teams in North and Central America together was a stark contrast to the tiny gym tucked in the middle of his church where Fa'alogo learned almost everything he knows about volleyball.
There, in a brown-walled building that also serves as an auxiliary closet for stacks of chairs and which is barely big enough to stretch a volleyball net across the boy spent hours and hours playing with his siblings, his cousins and his dad something he does to this day.
Almost no one could have guessed that Fa'alogo, a stretched-out 6-foot-4 teenager at Copper Hills, would get to the heights he's already reached. Growing up in a state with a fledgling club volleyball program for boys, Fa'alogo was almost a novelty in a state where basketball would supposedly be the sport of choice for a kid with his height and athleticism.
"When I was young, I was made fun of a lot," he says. "There were no boys my age playing, so I played on a team with girls who were three years older than me. I was actually always the shortest."
On the national team, Fa'alogo is an inch or two shorter than most of his teammates still. But when comparing experience, he's much further behind just about everyone.
Besides a few years with his Utah Elite club team again with players older than he was Fa'alogo has mostly been on his own. He is the youngest in a family of six that never had much money to send their children to camps and large-scale tournaments that often help shape national team-caliber players.
Cyrus' dad, Hank Fa'alogo, grew up in California, where boys volleyball is generally a booming pursuit. But in Utah, giving guys those opportunities is much more difficult.
"We had a club going, but it was the only club in the state, so we tried to play college clubs and teams like that," Hank Fa'alogo says. "All my kids played volleyball, but Cyrus took it to another level. He was always pushing."
As Cyrus' talent became more apparent to the family, they pushed to keep getting him experience. When the club team was together, they would travel as a family to California to play against top-drawer competition. They found the funds to send him to a volleyball camp at Brigham Young University, where Cyrus learned more about footwork and other details of the game.
It was Hank Fa'alogo who took his son to Colorado, then to Anaheim for national team tryouts. And the family could hardly believe their fortune when they heard the boy had made it the only Utahn on the roster.
"It's a big deal for us as parents," Hank Fa'alogo says. "He's always wanted to play in college, and we've tried to help him pursue that. But this surprised all of us."
In Tijuana, it took a while for Cyrus Fa'alogo to find his footing in the more fast-paced international game. But after sitting out most of the first two contests, he got his chance and cracked the starting six for most of the rest of the NORCECA tournament, winning bronze in a match against Puerto Rico and helping the United States qualify for next year's world championships.
The medal is hanging in the family living room, impossible for anyone walking through to miss.
"I was really homesick at first, and it was hard being away from my family," Fa'alogo says. "But I always tried to think about how happy they were for me, how they were counting on me, and it made me so much more determined to do better."
Cyrus Fa'alogo at a glance
6-foot-4 setter for the U.S. Boys Youth National Volleyball Team
Rising senior at Copper Hills
Recorded four starts for the U.S. at the NORCECA tournament in Tijuana, Mexico