Heneli Avendano attended Utah State’s football camp last summer. While there, the 6-foot-3, 300 pound center from Jordan High got to know the coaches, see the football facilities and enjoy the Cache Valley scenery. Those things impressed him enough that his interest in playing Aggie football grew, but he didn’t get an offer yet.
He had the talent, that wasn’t the problem. He also had the size. He said the only question was his grades. Unless he could improve in the classroom, he wouldn’t be able to join.
“My grades were really struggling before I went up there,” Avendano said. “I showed them that I wanted that scholarship and I wanted to play at the next level. I’ve proven it both on and off the field, and I worked for what they gave me.”
Months later, Avendano made his announcement. He sent a tweet Thursday saying he plans on furthering his education at USU. He plans on playing center, but not until after he serves a two-year mission for the LDS church.
He emphasized the importance his faith has to him.
“Ever since I was baptized into the church I was taught that with the Lord on my side I can do anything I put my mind to,” he said. “From my standpoint, with the things I’ve done in the church, I feel like he’s given me the ability to balance it out and still do everything else.”
Because of that belief, Avendano trusts that he can serve his church and be competitive in football. He said head coach Matt Wells’ willingness to let him delay football made choosing USU easier.
“(Wells) is not Mormon, but he shows love for the church,” Avendano said. “He accepts the mission and he knows he has to work around it. They’re letting me serve my mission first and they are totally supportive of it.”
Now that his grades have improved, Avendano said academics have become more important to him than ever. He now looks forward to learning and pursuing a degree at USU.
He said he has felt like family during his three visits, which helped make his choice feel like “the right decision.”
“They’ve shown me so much love,” he said. “They took me in like I was already a part of the program. That really hit me big time.”
In addition to football, Avendano has also participated in wrestling and baseball at Jordan High, and wants to join the track team this spring. He said he plans on starting his mission when he graduates high school this summer. He doesn’t choose where he gets sent, but said he would like to go Italy.