By: Katelyn Merrell
The Utah Utes strike again snatching up another one of Tustin’s finest athletes, senior Alema Pilimai. Playing outside linebacker, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback for the Tillers this season, Pilimai demonstrates what a versatile and overall talented athlete he truly is.
Over the past year, the 6’4” high school football star received offers from Utah State, Oregon State, BYU (Brigham Young University), Washington State, and the University of Utah, all of which recruited him as an outside linebacker. But why Utah? Pilimai shared, “I had always grown up a Utah fan. I am huge fan of the Pac12. In fact, it has always been a childhood dream of mine to play in the Pac12 and to play at that level.” At the University of Utah, Pilimai will join forces once again with former teammate and Tustin alumni George Wilson, who graduated in 2015. Knowing he will get the opportunity to play with his old teammate, Pilimai expressed, “Oh man, it’s awesome. It’ll feel like old times. We’ll both be young adults so I think it will be awesome to have someone from high school along the journey with me.” This season Wilson will be redshirting for the Utes, ultimately making the decision because he wanted a year to acclimate to the new lifestyle, learning to balance college football and academics.
Although Pilimai may seem to have the perfect football “Cinderella story,”his journey was not all “sunshine and daisies.” At the age of nine, Pilimai joined his first football team, the Irvine Chargers, where he played with current teammate RJ Villamar (#33). “When I first started playing football I hated it. I didn’t want to go to practice. I was slow. I was one of the worst players on the team.” However, this adversity did not stop Pilimai from pursuing his dreams. “It’s just like anything else in life, if you aren’t the best, but you want to be the best, then you’ll do anything to get there. And so that’s what I did. I did a lot of training and sacrificed time with friends and family to be able to reach that level.” When asked if this adversity made him into the player he is today, the senior assertively stated, “Absolutely.”
As many high school athletes aspiring to play at the collegiate level know, the recruiting process is not always an easy one, but fortunately for Pilimai he had plenty of friends, family, and coaches who supported his dream. When asked who were some the most influential people during his recruiting process, Pilimai responded with a smile, “Definitely my dad. He helped me a lot with just looking at the pros and cons of every school, but ultimately leaving the decision up to me and not trying too hard to push me one way. Also my high school coaches who I have now at Tustin High have been very influential. They’ve sent so many players through that program to college and to the pros so they know what it takes to hang with the big boys.”
Along with God given athleticism and exceptional determination, Pilimai possess a natural leadership quality, being one of the captains of the varsity squad for the past two years. The senior’s mentality going into this season was, “to make the most of it and leave an impression on the underclassman. I want to push the underclass man to be better than me, and succeed once us seniors are gone.” Pilimai continued, “Like the old saying goes, you play for the name on the front of your jersey, not the one on the back.” Even with all the recent attention and praise this young man has received over the past month, he continues to stay extremely humble and thankful for the opportunity presented before him.