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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah defensive lineman Nate Fakahafua holds a photograph of his daughter Lily when she was 3 years old.
Letters to Lily: Utah football player writes his own story
Utah football » A Utah football player’s relationship with his daughter is the one he writes.
First Published Sep 29 2012 01:15 pm • Last Updated Jan 07 2013 11:32 pm

His muscles throbbed, and the bristles of the bedroom carpet massaged his motionless body. Still in shorts and a T-shirt after his first workout in a week, Utah defensive end Nate Fakahafua collapsed as soon as he entered the room.

Pain surged through him on the June day, alighting at each muscle and continuing until it and his racing mind met somewhere in the middle. Everything ached. Only the carpet hugged him.

At a glance

Nate Fakahafua

Team » Utah Utes

Position » Defensive end

Year » Sophomore

Hometown » Salt Lake City (Highland High School)

Height » 6-3

Weight » 250 pounds

Notable » The Tribune’s 2010 Class 4A MVP. … Played wide receiver and D-end in high school. … Won state championships in football and basketball as senior at Highland. … Has recorded 19 tackles in four games this season.

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In that moment, all he wanted was to hold his 4-year-old daughter. To talk to her.

The 19-year-old scanned his bedroom. On the desk in the corner sat an unopened black notebook.

What if I wrote to her?

He grabbed the ruled notebook and lay back down; he opened the cover to the first page, pressed the tip of a black pen to the first line, thought for a moment and began to write.

Nate keeps that notebook in a secret spot in the wall. Only he knows where it goes and only he knows what lives between the covers. He and his daughter share little except DNA, bulging muscles and stolen moments in malls and parks. But one day, he hopes, they will share the words he scratches onto the pages. He tries to write twice a week and each time he opens that notebook, he starts his letters the same way he did the first time, when only his mind could move.

It began with, "Dear Lily."

Not in the plan

He was athletic and new and, after Ataya Reeves spotted him in the hall, it was a quick crush. Nate had deep lines of definition in his arms and, already 6 feet tall, towered over other early teenagers. When he smiled, he did so broadly and his eyes narrowed into tight slits, as if he wanted to shut out everything but the person who made him happy in the first place.

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story continues below

They were eighth-graders at Hillside Middle School and were in the same class nearly every period that year. They held hands in class and ate lunch together every day, even though his guardians, Dave and Katherine Orchard, did not know about Ataya and encouraged Nate to hold off on dating until he was older.

A year later, Principal Paul Schulte called the Orchards to Highland High School. Nate sat on the floor of the school office and sobbed. Schulte told them Ataya was pregnant.

Within two years, Utah football coaches offered Nate a football scholarship and he committed soon after. His life was mapped out.

But at 14, he did not plan on a family.

His own was fractured by distance and economics. His mother, Ana, lived in Oakland, Calif., where she worked and regularly sent money to him and his older brother, Max, with whom Nate lived.

After moving to Salt Lake, Nate competed on a basketball team made up of elite young players. Among them was Sam Orchard, a skinny guard with whom Nate forged an easy friendship.

Sam’s life did not resemble Nate’s. Sam came from a financially stable family that lived in a big house. In subsequent years, the Orchard home was cast as that of Troy Bolton, Zac Efron’s character in the "High School Musical" films.

But when Max moved in with his in-laws, there was no longer room for Nate. He begged a ride to that large storybook house, knocked, and asked Sam’s father, Dave, if he could move in.

The Orchards opened their home. Nate became part of their family.

A cautious introduction

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