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After football nearly ‘broke’ him, Uriah Leiataua is finding joy again as he prepares for BYU’s Pro Day

Leiataua retired from football after BYU’s bowl game. But now he is back, making TikToks, and trying to re-write his final chapter

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua joins BYU football coaches, players and staff participating in BYU football media day in the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Uriah Leiataua doesn’t shy away from his biggest vice. And truth be told, why should he? He’s a rising TikTok star.

Just recently, he went viral on the entertainment app — teaming up with former Utah star, and Rose Bowl sensation, Britain Covey. They documented their NFL Draft workouts together, spoofing the Utah-BYU rivalry in the process. Covey is a TikTok expert of sorts. Leiataua was just along for the ride.

“He was directing me on where to look at the camera and everything,” Leiataua said jokingly. “[Sometimes things] are serious, but TikTok, it’s just funny. It’s joy.”

@toadsageuriah

@Britain Covey would prolly win in a fight 🤷🏽‍♂️ @byufootball @Utah Football

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Leiataua has over 120,000 TikTok likes, a number steadily rising as he takes people through the light hearted moments of the NFL Draft process. But eventually, the former BYU defensive lineman wants to be known for something more. He wants to be a late-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, or get into training camp somewhere.

He knows his candidacy for the NFL is murky. And it’s a candidacy made more complicated by the fact that Leiataua retired from the sport a month ago, only to come back late in the NFL Draft process.

No amount of TikTok videos will change that. But those videos are important for one thing. They offer a glimpse into why he is trying his hand at this unlikely journey. He wants to find joy once more in the sport that nearly broke him. Whether this ends with an NFL contract is beside the point. It’s about closing this chapter of his life on his own terms, having fun.

“He was broken,” Amaris Leiataua, his sister, said on how Leiataua ended his career. “I saw him doubting himself. But now he is excited [again].”

On the surface, Leiataua is an NFL longshot. He wasn’t the most productive college football player and went in and out of BYU’s starting lineup. In five years, he finished with five sacks and 69 tackles. Combine that with injuries and his NFL stock plummeted.

It wasn’t surprising when the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl came and went without Leiataua there this winter. He wasn’t on scouts’ radar and NFL teams weren’t considering him.

“Invitations to the NFL showcases are an early litmus test [to gauge] NFL interest,” said Evan Brennan, an NFL agent who has represented many BYU players. “Without an invite, it means teams, at that juncture, aren’t really that interested.”

So Leiataua went directly home to California after BYU’s bowl game. He retracted from football and told agents he was retired. He talked to his sister, a BYU law student, about following her to law school.

Throughout his month at home, his father would often come up to him around the house and ask him to try out for the NFL. He didn’t want him to have regrets or to leave football on a painful note. But each time, Leiataua declined.

The last act of his football career was supposed to come in early January, when he traveled back to Provo to return football gear to the equipment staff. It was a simple in and out, until he ran into BYU’s NFL liaison Jasen Ah You.

“It broke my heart to see him,” Ah You said, who didn’t know Leiataua retired until he saw him in the equipment room. “I’ve known the NFL was his dream since he got here. I called him into my office and said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen, them saying no?”

Ah You thought Leiataua’s size could help mask the lack of productivity. He wasn’t a great scheme fit at BYU. But, above all, Ah You felt like Leiataua was momentarily disillusioned with football and it was clouding his judgment.

A lot of it stemmed from 2020. Back then, Leiataua spoke freely of wanting to play in the NFL. He broke up with his girlfriend and retracted from his friends to focus on the dream. But before the season even started, he broke his leg.

When football stopped, Leiataua also stopped. His calculation had misfired. Football became a source of pain.

“That was the lowest point,” Amaris said. “I’ve never seen my brother cry. I think he [lost his joy].”

But now he has that joy back as Ah You convinced him to come back. It is partly why he makes his TikToks. They are innocuous, but symbolize his journey coming full circle — smiling again around football.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua joins BYU football coaches, players and staff participating in BYU football media day in the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

The path to the NFL is still difficult, especially since he started as late as he did.

“It’s a shortened window, you have anywhere from eight to 12 weeks to train for the draft,” Skylar Mayne, his trainer, said. “He missed two weeks ... a decent chunk of time.”

BYU’s Pro Day next month is basically Leiataua’s last chance. If he runs well and tests well, he will have a shot. If not, his career could be over in a month. But Ah You has told him it’s a “new season” when it comes to Pro Day.

And if this is Leiataua’s last season, and his shortest season, it will have been worth it. The pain is gone. The chapter will have been written.

“I don’t want to have any regrets,” Leiataua said. “I’m having a ton of fun. I have a lot of confidence in myself as a player. I just need to show it.”