Thursday, May 16, 2013

For Redskins Tevita Stevens, All He Needs is an Opportunity

Stevens, 54, was signed by the Redskins following the draft.

Whenever somebody mentioned the Utah Utes this draft season, the first, and maybe only, name that came to mind was Star Lotulelei. However, the Redskins recently signed undrafted rookie free agent offensive lineman Tevita Stevens from Utah. He recently sat down to tell me his story...

Stevens grew up in Hemet, California with four brothers and is the son of a former USC tennis player. For the Stevens, athletics has always been a part of their lives.

“Football is huge for my family. My brothers play, I play, and coming from a small town, it’s a really big deal,” Stevens told me in an over-the-phone interview.

Naturally, you’d think that Tevita has been playing the game all his life. However, you would be wrong. See, there was one BIG thing that kept Tevita from playing football until high school.

“I was too big,” Tevita said laughing. “The pee-wee leagues in California go by weight. In fourth grade I would have had to play with the eighth graders.”

Once he got to Hemet High School, Stevens stared on the football field as an offensive lineman. His senior year, 2006, he was selected the teams offensive line MVP, was named to the All-Region and All-League teams for both offensive and defensive line, and won the Hemet Tri-League Championship. On top of that, he was a standout wrestler and discuss thrower.

Coming out of high school, the University of Texas El Paso, UTEP, was the only school that offered him a scholarship to play football. For Stevens, he knew that football was going to have to wait as he felt a calling in a different direction.

“Following high school, I served a mission in New York City. I helped spread the word of the gospel to the people there. I learned Spanish and mainly spread the word to the people that spoke Spanish in New York,” said Stevens.

Football, however, never left his mind.

While he had most of his days planned out for him, Stevens made time in the mornings to keep himself in football shape. He originally planned to complete his two year mission and then head off to UTEP to play football.

“I woke up early everyday and ran and did strength training to keep myself in top physical condition. I knew I wanted to go back and play football so I just made sure I would physically be ready,” said Stevens.

While serving his mission, Stevens was able to get some time to himself and think about the direction his life was going. It was then that he decided he did not want to go to UTEP because he wanted to be closer to home and his brothers.

Tevita Stevens older brother, Chris, was a linebacker at BYU and his younger brother, Hamani, was a highly recruited high school center. Eventually, Hamani committed to play center at Oregon and is there today.

While his younger brother Hamani was visiting division one schools up and down the west coast, he took Tevita’s highlight tape with him hoping that he would be able to drum-up interest in his older brother. But, it would be his older brother Chris that would help him the most.

“He played with the Defensive Coordinator (Kalani Fifita Sitake) for Utah at BYU. He gave him my highlight reel and they told me to come and tryout for the team,” said Stevens.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Steven’s earned a scholarship right off the bat and was redshirted his freshman year in 2008. That year, the Utes went on their magical undefeated run which ended in a 31-17 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 BCS Sugar Bowl. For Tevita, that was the highlight of his career.

“To be able to go and be a part of that was amazing. We went up against a really good team with a lot of tradition in Alabama and beat them to complete our undefeated season. That was awesome,” said Tevita.

The following season, Tevita played in all 13 games and started ten of them. He helped the Utes to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl against California. Utah went on to win 37-27. Following the season, Steven’s was named to the All-Academic MWC Team.

In 2010, Utah was able to find success behind the blocking of Tevita Stevens. He started all 13 games and didn’t allow a single sack all season. The Utes finished 10-3 but lost to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

2011 brought with it a major change as Utah made the move over to the Pac 12 from the MWC. That didn’t slow down Utah as they finished 8-5 and defeated Georgia Tech in overtime in the Sun Bowl. For the third consecutive season, Steven’s made the conference all-academic team.

2012 didn’t quite bring the same success that the Utes had had in seasons past. They fought through numerous quarterback injuries and struggled to a 5-7 record. Stevens started every single game and was named to the Pac 12 All-Academic team and was an All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention.

As stated above, Star Lotulelei is usually the first and only name that comes to mind when somebody mentions Utah. While Tevita played on the same team as Star, he still got a heavy dose of him each and every day.

Tevita Stevens during Redskins Rookie Mini Camp.
“Star and I went against each other everyday in practice and he is definitely the best defensive lineman I have ever gone against. He was definitely worth the first round selection. Going against him made me such a better player in many different ways,” said Stevens.

Tevita was at home in Hemet when the Redskins called him following the draft saying that they would be signing him to a contract. For Tevita, all he really wants is an opportunity to show the coaches what he’s made of.

At rookie mini-camp this past week, Stevens told me that it was like something out of NFL Films when he walked into the facilities. He was awestruck when he saw the three Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophies and then walked past the “wall of fame” that had photo’s of some of the greatest Redskins players and moments of all time on it.

“I’m excited to be a Redskin and to be a part of the whole legacy of the organization. The winning tradition, the success, and the history is amazing,” said Stevens.