It is perhaps the most unlikely footnote in the saga that has finally delivered Tevita Finau to his senior football season at Utah.
Finau and three other former Lahainaluna High School athletes were on their way to the Phoenix airport in August 2006 when they stopped to eat at Moki's Hawaiian Barbecue and Grill in Mesa, and met Motu Kahaialii, a manager at the restaurant.
Each of the Lunas foursome was in Arizona with hopes of playing football at East Arizona Junior College, only to be told no scholarships were available. They were on their way to catch a flight home when they ran into Kahaialii, the father of former Kamehameha Maui offensive lineman Walter Kahaialii, then a freshman at Brigham Young.
Kamehameha Maui graduate Walter Kahaialii returned to BYU last year after a two-year church mission.
"Funny story," Finau said Tuesday as his Utes prepared for Saturday's game against the Cougars. "We see this little mixed-plate place on our way to the airport and said, 'Let's eat before we go.'
"I just so happened to meet the defensive coordinator at Phoenix College when I was eating there. We were all supposed to come back home, but we ended up canceling our flight and enrolling (at Phoenix College) the next day. That was the fall of '06, we all grayshirted and we all worked at this mixed-plate place where Walter's dad was the manager."
Finau was a second-team junior-college All-American in 2007, and in 2008 was his region's co-defensive player of the year. In his JC career the defensive end piled up 142 tackles - 30 for loss - and forced four fumbles.
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At Utah it hasn't been nearly so stellar - five tackles in 10 games so far, with one start after he joined the team early last season. That he is still playing eight seasons after his final high school campaign is a story in itself.
Three high schools, three years away from football and five signed NCAA letters of intent - three with West Virginia alone - eventually brought Finau to Salt Lake City. Marriage and his 2-year-old daughter, Aila, have helped him find his place.
He caught the winning touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship game for eventual state-champion Kahuku in 2003 after spending his first two high school years at Lahainaluna and his junior year at Maui High, where he helped the Sabers go 28-1 in basketball and finish third in the state.
Kahaialii, third team all-state as a senior offensive lineman, left Kamehameha Maui as the school's first NCAA Division I scholarship football player in 2006 - and is still the only one. He redshirted his first season at BYU, then played in 11 games in 2007 before going on a mission to Melbourne, Australia, the next two years. He returned last season to play in eight games.
Finau is 25, Kahaialii is 23. They played each other last season in Utah's 17-16 win.
"It is an amazing story," Kahaialii said, recalling his father's role in Finau's winding road. "My dad was able to help him out and working with my dad and family in general, they always say, 'Go out and make something of yourself.' I know Tevita is a hard worker, so it is good to see that he is succeeding and doing well."
Kahaialii is currently second string at right guard and starts on the punt team.
"He has gotten a lot bigger from what I remember," the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Kahaialii said of the 6-4, 283-pound Finau - they both list Lahaina as their hometown. "From what I see on film, he is definitely a force for their defense."
After high school, Finau was eyeing Oregon State but stayed on Maui and worked in the family masonry business before going to Arizona and his job as a short-order cook. Both of those gigs made football look like a better path.
His wife, the former Adrianne Galeai, and daughter have shown him that education is paramount.
"They have helped big-time," he said. "When I finally got married, it helped me realize what is important and settle down. And now here I am."
He is set to graduate with a degree in communications in the spring.
Finau is listed as a co-starter, though playing time has been limited in the first two games. His position coach is former Baldwin standout and coach Chad Kauhaahaa, who was also a defensive end at Utah.
"I wouldn't mind taking a shot (at the NFL), but I know I have to get that degree for my family," he said.
Kahaialii had arthroscopic knee surgery in November, and an operation on his left pectoral muscle in March.
"It was one of those small-world things when I saw his name on their roster," Kahaialii said. "It seems a little bit weird, but then you realize that we have all grown up, all moved on, and are all doing our thing."
Kahaialii is an exercise and wellness major with an eye toward being a college strength and conditioning coach.
"The NFL is an ultimate goal of mine - that is why I am here, to get an education first, but I do, I think about it all the time," he said.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org