BYU HOPING FOR HOLLYWOOD ENDING TO `DAMUNI STORY'
"The Jack Damuni Story" could make a decent underdog makes-good-through-perseverance sports movie. You know, the old "Rocky" formula - this time with college football backdrop and based on a real person.
The only problem is that the movie has already been made. It was called "Rudy" and it came out last year.Dan "Rudy" Ruettiger, the inspiration for the 1993 theatrical release, and Damuni have amazingly similar stories.
- Rudy dreamed of playing college football for a church-owned university with a rich football tradition (Notre Dame). Even though everyone in his hometown, Joliet, Ill., thought he was nuts to think he really had a chance, Rudy never gave up the dream and worked to fulfill it.
Damuni dreamed of playing for a church-owned university with a rich (at least for the past 20 years) football tradition (BYU). Even though nobody in his hometown, Laie, Hawaii, thought it possible, he worked hard to see the dream come true.
- After an undistinguished high school football career, Rudy didn't go to college right off, instead staying home to work in local industry - in a steel mill.
After being cut every year by his high school football coach, Damuni didn't go to college right off, instead staying home to work locally in the tourism industry - as a dancer in the Polynesian Cultural Center.
- After finally deciding to go to college - several years removed from high school - Rudy couldn't get into Notre Dame so he went to a nearby junior college in hopes of transferring later.
After finally deciding to go to college - several years removed from high school - Damuni went to a junior college, Dixie, in the same state as BYU, in hopes of transferring later.
- Following acceptance to his chosen school, Rudy made the football team, earned his teammates' respect and became a fan and student body favorite.
Following acceptance to his chosen school, Damuni became a valuable player on the football team, earned his teammates' respect and became a fan and student body favorite.
A big play or two by Damuni in Thursday's Copper Bowl against Oklahoma State - his final game as a college football player - could make the story even more Hollywood-like.
Certainly Damuni isn't your typical collegiate safety. He speaks five languages fluently, has danced professionally and knows the art of eating fire. And he's remarkably old, even for a team filled with older-than-average players. Damuni is 28 - he'll be 29 in less than a month. His 10-year high school reunion was last summer.
"Some of the guys make fun of my age," Damuni said. "On days we get our scholarship checks they say I get two checks - my scholarship check and my social security check. Coach Edwards tells people I was here when he got here."
Actually, this is just Damuni's second season in Provo. It's just that working for several years, going on an LDS mission and becoming a junior college star after being a walk-on takes time.
Each year during high school Damuni tried out for the football team only to be cut. As a high school senior he was cut, as usual, but this time he begged the coach to let him back on the team. The coach gave him a chance and he made the most of it. He had a decent season, but no college football recruiters came knocking down his door.
So he went back to do what he'd been doing since he was five. He got a job dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center, performing each day in front of Hawaiian tourists. Later he served a mission to Guam.
Despite all the time removed from the football field, Damuni decided to give the sport one final try and he walked on at Dixie. He became a first-team all-conference player and suddenly he was being recruited by Hawaii, California and Arizona State in addition to BYU. "I had always been a BYU fan, so it was a dream come true to go there," he says.
"When people in Hawaii had heard I had signed with BYU, they said `you play football?' It was a big surprise back home."
Last season Damuni led the Cougars with three interceptions. This season he broke his collarbone on the first play of the opening game against Hawaii and missed much of the season, but still managed to make 17 tackles and pick off one pass.
It doesn't take the affable Damuni long to make friends and influence people. Last season, his first at BYU, he was selected by the university's newspaper, the Daily Universe, as one of the most influential people on campus.
"Jack's a likable guy and a good leader," BYU coach LaVell Edwards said. "He hadn't played a whole lot of football before coming here, but he's done a nice job for us. It's just too bad he got hurt this year."
Damuni doesn't want Thursday night to end.
"These two years went by too fast," he says. "I think about not playing football, not being able to pump the fans up on kickoffs, not being asked to sign autographs, it's really sad for me. I'm going to miss it. It's an incredible feeling being a football player at BYU."
BOWL NOTES: While Cougar QB John Walsh has said all year long he plans to return to play for BYU next season, it's long been speculated that he would leave if he thought he would be drafted early in the first round. When his friend, junior college QB phenom Steve Sarkisian, signed with BYU last week it fueled more Walsh leaving rumors. Sarkisian said all along he wanted to go somewhere where he could start for two years. Still, contrary to what some think, Walsh had not announced what he will do and will make his plans known after the Copper Bowl . . . Speaking of quarterbacks, Oklahoma's starter all season, Garrick McGee is not expected to play Thursday night. He is recovering from a viral infection and has missed a great deal of practice time.