LANCASTER — Paraclete football player Henry Ikahihifo was entertaining scholarship offers from 22 different colleges, most of whom were NCAA Division 1 powerhouses.
He was sure that he would choose either UCLA or Notre Dame and said he was leaning toward the Irish.
But in the back of his mind, he clung to a hope of playing collegiate football with his older brother TJ Ikahihifo, who also played football at Paraclete.
That’s where the University of Nevada stepped in.
The Nevada coaches sat with Ikahihifo on an official visit and told him he was the No. 1 player on their recruiting quest.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ve heard that before.’ Then they were like, ‘What do we need to do in order for us to get you at Nevada?’” Ikahihifo recalled.
He told them about his brother and also that he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted to serve a two-year mission for his church.
They asked about his brother and eventually made Ikahihifo a deal he couldn’t turn down.
“They ended up offering him a full-ride scholarship, but his is only valid if I commit to Nevada,” said Ikahihifo, who also has a full ride. “So we’re both headed to Nevada as soon as he’s back from his two-year mission. … I’m all in. No college could have taken it away, either.”
TJ, known as Elder Ikahihifo on his mission, left in December for the Kenya/South Africa Mission. The plan is for Henry to play at Nevada for one year before heading on his mission for two years.
When TJ comes back, he will play for one year without Henry, then they will have at least three years to play together.
Having Henry push for this opportunity was special for TJ.
“First off I want to thank my Heavenly Father for all that he has done for me,” TJ said through an email from Africa. “I also want to thank my Heavenly Father for blessing me with a wonderful family. I wouldn’t be where I am without God and my family. It means more than I can express to be able to have the opportunity to play with my brother Henry. We always dreamed since day 1 playing next to each other and making our family proud. We love to play the game and have fun.
“I’m grateful for Henry for taking me with him. He has always been by my side. He gave me the opportunity and now I’m willing to give my all. I’m excited for the future especially being with my brother. The family has always supported me and Henry. Our bond can never break and we plan on doing great things together.
“We have been chasing our dreams and now it’s time to accomplish it.”
Henry didn’t just stop at bringing his brother along, though. He convinced a few friends, including former Paraclete teammates Melquan Stovall (who enrolled early) and Jamaal Bell, to come to Nevada, along with teammate Donovan Carter, who is a preferred walk-on.
“I couldn’t just go alone with my brother,” Henry said. “I had to tell the coaches that I had some friends like Melquan and Jamaal and Donovan. … It was hard to get them to come to Nevada.”
He also tried to convince Stovall’s older brother, Melquise Stovall, to come along, but he had already committed to Hawaii.
Playing with his friends and brother weren’t the only perks for Henry at Nevada, but he admitted he didn’t go on his visit thinking he would end up choosing to be a part of the Wolf Pack.
“At first, when I was on my official, I was looking around and I thought, ‘This is a pretty small school, it’s not going to be for me,’” Henry said. “And then I walked around the campus and the campus was just as big as UCLA’s. They have a three-level workout facility that I was interested in and they have a strong business program, which I was heavily interested in. After that, I just started weighing all my options first before I made a big decision and I ended up committing to Nevada.”
Henry plans on studying business and management, with a plan to go into marketing.
He also said he bonded with the coaching staff, especially head coach Jay Norvell and assistant coach/tight ends coach Timmy Chang. He will be playing tight end for the Wolf Pack.
Henry was thankful to a lot of people who helped him along the way, especially his parents, Teresa and Tooni Ikahihifo, and his Paraclete football coaches.
“I want to thank my Heavenly Father for blessing me with this incredible talent that I have,” Henry said. “I also want to thank my mom and dad. Without them, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. I probably would have been making some poor choices. I also want to thank all my family that came today. And especially coach (Dean) Herrington. I have to thank him, coach (Rick) McGuire and all of the coaching staff at Paraclete.”