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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.


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In November 2010, the Winchesters bundled up their little girl and sat in Rice-Eccles Stadium for the 2010 Class 4A state football championship. It was the first time they had been directly contacted by Nate, rather than Ataya. He had invited them.

Nate and Ataya were broken up, their four-year relationship, which oscillated between on and off, finally finished. They remain close friends.

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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Nate played receiver and defensive end for Highland. In overtime, his Rams trailed Mountain Crest 30-23. He lined up to the left side on fourth down-and-10 from the 25.

Nate streaked the sideline and snatched a pass, scoring a touchdown to extend the game, pulling two tagalong defenders into the end zone. Highland won 37-36 in double overtime.

"We weren’t really going to say anything," John Winchester said. "We were just going to watch the whole thing."

They waited near the field as teammates, then fans, then members of the media swarmed Nate. When he finally walked off the field, Lori leaned over the railing and waved from her hip.

He scaled the wall and hugged them and grabbed Lily. He held her and kissed her. He said he was grateful she caught him at his best.

‘Just happy to be there’

Fakahafua knows he can’t be Lily’s father, at least not until a day she decides to open herself up to another dad. That’s why he writes to her.


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story continues below

John Winchester, 38, is her father. He works in insurance, and with Lori, bought her a toy Jeep and a trampoline. He gave her a bedroom that is swathed in pink. The light green hutch in the corner came from his own mother.

On a recent Friday, Lily wore a salmon sundress, a white bow in her black hair. While her brother Henry, 2 years old and also adopted, tramped through the house clutching a cereal box, Lily performed cartwheels, which she has learned in tumbling class.

A year ago, Lily underwent treatment for a rare disorder called Guillain Barre syndrome. It attacks the nervous system and, in Lily, caused temporary paralysis.

Nate and Ataya went to visit her at Primary Children’s Medical Center, and sat with her for an hour. "The thing that blew me away," Fakahafua said, "was how happy she still was. She didn’t seem down about what had happened. She was just happy to be there."

Nate has not seen Lily since that day and he does not know when he will again.

All there for later

Lily can’t read the notebook now. But in 10 or 15 years, Nate thinks, he’ll give it to her — when she comes looking for him.

That’s a moment he spends a good amount of time considering.

The Winchesters have given Lily almost everything, save the little ribbons of muscle that press out of her otherwise skinny arms. She has done pull-ups since she was 2.

Nate added 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is often told he can play in the National Football League. As a freshman, he saw how many of the departing seniors banked their futures on the NFL, and how few actually reached the league.

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