Provo • Of the first recruiting class Kalani Sitake welcomed as head coach of the BYU football program four years ago, only one is graduating this year. While others went on to serve missions before coming to Provo or have redshirted a season, Aleva Hifo is the lone athlete that will be ending his collegiate career four years after Sitake took over.
And he’ll be doing it on a national stage at the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.
Hifo has been there through all the changes Sitake has implemented during his tenure, and the senior believes they’ve all been for the better.
“I’ve been really excited to see what he’s done with the program, especially with the players as individuals — not just throughout the football field,” Hifo said. “He’s been able to kind of impact us and understand that we’re more than just football players. We’ve got to respect our families and, more importantly, just make them proud for all the sacrifices they made for us to be here.”
Although Hifo grew up in southern California, he’s always been connected to BYU through his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hifo’s family was always into — and watched — BYU sports. All sports, not just football.
BYU VS. HAWAII
At Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
When • Tuesday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
When he started drawing attention from BYU, it was a dream come true for the three-star prospect out of Heritage High School. It also allowed him to continue to play with his cousin Sione Takitaki, who was with the Cougars 2014-18 and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 2019 draft.
“It all fit,” Hifo said. “It was the best thing for me. I’m glad how things worked out.”
When Hifo came to BYU in 2016, the 5-foot-10 wide receiver struggled a bit in preseason camp, but Sitake came down on him. The new coach emphasized the importance of being part of a team and wanted to make sure that Hifo put the team and others before himself.
Hifo said that lesson stuck with him throughout his career. And the way Sitake is able to connect with his players is something Hifo will always cherish about his coach.
“It's the coach that he is,” Hifo said. “He's a player's coach. You can't ask for more than that – someone that understands the players, each and every player. He knows all of our backgrounds, where we come from … I love that about him.”
Having a coach like Sitake, Hifo believes, is what helped the team deal with the ups and downs of this season. Just when the Cougars had come out of the first four games of the season, all against Power Five schools and three of them ranked at the time, better than expected, BYU suffered two disappointing losses.
The Cougars were able to recover and went on a five-game winning streak which sealed bowl eligibility for BYU and a contract extension for Sitake.
“We had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day we come back to the locker room and the persons that are with us is our teammates,” Hifo said.
After a slow freshman season, Hifo became a staple in the Cougars’ wide receiving groups over the last three years. This season he is one of the top four receivers on the team.
With one game left in his collegiate career, Hifo has 439 yards and three touchdowns on 37 receptions this year. His best performance came at Toledo, when he racked up 111 yards and two touchdowns on just five receptions. He had a career-best 75-yard scoring reception in the Glass Bowl.
But even though he only has one more game to wear the BYU royal blue color, Hifo isn't done playing football.
Last month, Hifo accepted an invitation to play in the 2020 Hula Bowl which he hopes will be a launch pad for continuing his his football career.
“I’m going to try to do football and pursue any opportunity given to me and make sure I can make the best of them for as long as I can,” Hifo said. “Whether that’s NFL or any other football league, that’s something I want to continue doing. I definitely want to play football for as long as I can and I don’t think I’m anywhere near done playing.”