It was a day Shaun Nua will never forget. As a young boy, he and his uncle used a rope to catch the back leg of a frantic wild boar. Scared and in panic of what was to come, Nua knew the pig had to be restrained before being killed. Hearing the commands from his uncle, Nua was hesitant but wanted to be obedient and not disappoint. Unfortunately before he could reach the pig, it loosened its bond and ran screaming straight towards a paralyzed Shaun Nua standing with eyes wide open. With a hard thud, Nua was knocked backwards to the ground and began to cry. It was a long time from that day to the day he put on a football helmet with a Y logo on the side.
After spending three years at BYU as a defensive lineman, Nua was drafted in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005. While suited up as an NFL player, he reached the pinnacle of what he believed life could afford.
"Here I am a kid from Samoa playing in the biggest football arena in the world,” said Nua, who spent three years with the Steelers. “I was living what I thought was my dream."
During his rookie year, Nua would be part of a team that beat the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.
"I had reached my final goal," said Nua. "I won a Super Bowl my rookie year and thought, 'Man, is this it?' It wasn't what I thought it would be when I was a kid. I mean, I was on the field and on the sidelines as an NFL player and we won a Super Bowl. It just wasn't what I thought. When it was all said and done, it really helped me to see what BYU was really all about."
Growing up on the island of Samoan, Nua and his family didn't have much and lived off the land like most Polynesians do. After a three-year stint in the NFL and a Super Bowl victory, the dream Nua once had was non-fulfilling and unsatisfying.
"I learned that money will not make you happy, that fame is overrated and it makes you forget who you are and where you come from," said Nua with a serious tone. "It made me realize that there was something more valuable out there than fame, money and football. Man, it made me think and finally realize all those things that Bronco Mendenhall had been teaching me when I was a player at BYU. It finally all came together."
In time Nua would eventually make his way back to BYU as a general assistant coaching on the offensive side of the ball. He was switched back to defense after Coach Hill was fired after the fifth game of the 2010 season. Nua is happy he is back on the defensive side of the ball, where he can now coach a team he once played for and loves.
"I learned a lot from Coach Anae and Coach Weber, but man, now I feel like I'm back home coaching on defense," Nua said. "I'm happy I'm back. Now it's basically kicking this defense's butt every day and trying to help out the d-line with the knowledge I gained from Pittsburgh. I'll help Bronco and Coach Kaufusi with the nose tackles and d-ends. We have good kids and I love these kids. They're learning just like I did when I played here."
While on the Steelers, Nua was learning and competing in football at a higher level. He was a professional playing among and against some of the best talent around. His position coach John Mitchell had 18 years of NFL experience, ranking him the longest-tenured member of the Steelers coaching staff. During his time with the Steelers he learned a lot, and has carried that knowledge with him.
"[The Steelers] run a 3-4 defense and BYU runs a 3-4 defense,” said Nua. “It really gave me a lot of knowledge on how things should look and how things should be done. Man, I learned a lot and Pittsburgh would be the first to tell you that they don't have all the answers to shutting down offenses, but there is hard work and fundamentals and that's what BYU is trying to do. With the knowledge that I gained there, it will help me here and hopefully we can go forward. I think it's a big advantage on my part and now I just have to take advantage of that and be unselfish with that and pass it on."
When Nua returned to BYU to coach as a G.A., his path would take another unexpected turn. On September 29 this year, Nua entered the waters of baptism and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"It's been nine years since the time I first stepped foot on campus to the day I got baptized," said Nua. "What influenced me was I wanted to be happy. When I left for the NFL, I was happy but I wasn't completely happy. Something was missing inside. I'm not bashing on any other church and think all other churches are good, but I just felt peace and happiness in this church. It took a long time, and it wasn't like I wasn't happy with my old church – I just felt more comfortable with this church and I believe in it. When I finally investigated the Church on my own, I realized things were different and saw for myself the fullness. Before I wasn't complete and right now this is the most complete I've ever been.
"When I first came here to BYU, I came here for football, but what I found was something bigger. My path is kind of funny and I definitely found something bigger than just football through BYU. Now I'm coaching here and I love being around these kids. One day I would like to take everything I've gained from this experience and go back home to Samoa someday and help the little kids live the dream I once had."
While playing for the Cougars, Nua grew very close to Jim Hamblin, a staff member at the Student Athlete Academic Center. After deciding to join the Church, Nua asked Hamblin to perform the baptism.
"Hamblin and I've been friends since I was here," Nua said. "If you go to his office and sit there the whole day, it's like a therapy session. You'll see members of the Church, non-members, white people, black people, Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, and all kinds of people will be in his office. He never forced me to become a member, but if I had a question he would answer it. He's a good friend and a good person and when I asked him to baptize me, he answered the call. He's a great-hearted guy and helps out all the kids from all sports. I wouldn't have wanted anybody else to baptize me."
Nua also chose to have others that influenced him at BYU participate at his baptism.
"Coach Reynolds gave me the gift of the Holy Ghost," Nua said. "He's another special man and a great influence. With Coach Tidwell, it was kind of a last-minute thing, and I was thinking, ‘Who better to give the talk on [baptism] than the person that brought me here?’ Coach Tidwell is the one that found me and recruited me, and so I picked him to give the talk on baptism. He's a great man and it's really because of him that I'm even here."
Meanwhile, Nua chose to have Kelly Poppinga give the talk on the Holy Ghost at his baptism.
"Kelly Poppinga is another person that I worked with and answered a lot of my questions," Nua said. "Last year when I was a G.A., we both would stay up late talking. We would get up early and talk some more. I had so many questions and he became a close friend of mine is one of the best friends I've ever had."
Many of Nua’s family members and friends went to his baptism. BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson was even in attendance.
"I didn't think there was going to be that many people there because it was such short notice," said Nua. "My parents made it here from back home in Samoa, and there were just a lot of people that was there. It was better than winning the Super Bowl. I was happy and I was on cloud nine and it's hard to explain. I wouldn't trade it for any Super Bowl ring and would give it away in a heartbeat to find what I've found.
"In fact, I did give my Super Bowl ring away to my dad the first day I got it," continued Nua. "I really don't care about things like that and would never trade this experience at BYU and joining the Church for anything in the world. A Super Bowl and a ring is something you can give away, but this experience is something you just can't trade for anything. There is no comparison between being baptized into the Church and winning the Super Bowl. I wouldn't trade being baptized for any Super Bowl ring. I'm really happy now. There is not even any comparison to finding the true religion. There is nothing even better than that."