Senior fullback and captain Stanley Havili has been touted as the most complete player on the Trojan roster — and for good reason. He can block, run, and receive as well as anyone else on the football field on any given night.
This doesn’t come as a surprise either. Havili’s 84 career receptions are the most ever by a USC fullback and rank 25th all time on the Trojans’ career pass catching list. He is ranked as the No. 1 fullback in the class of 2011 and has soaring NFL draft prospects.
And if his 500-plus yards of total offense this season aren’t enough, Havili has served as the vocal and emotional leader of a squad shocked with the transition into a new coaching regime.
All of this is general knowledge, at least to USC fans. What might not be so well known, however, is the fact that all of the success and hype that Havili has garnered as a Trojan in the past few years might never have come true had the senior taken the other path in a crossroads he encountered.
Havili is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a highly organized religion that follows a lifelong program of participation and growth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the fourth-largest religious institution in the United States, with more than six million members in the United States and more than 14 million worldwide.
At the age of 19, many male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints take a rite of passage.
Missionaries, also known as brothers or elders, take a two-year hiatus from their working lives or studies in order to fully devote themselves to their traveling gospel. Young men aged 19-25 must meet standards of worthiness after undergoing a lengthy application process.
Then, the Quorom of Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of the Church, assigns the elder to a mission in a location other than of his home. After being trained, the elders are sent to spread the gospel in a very disciplined lifestyle, their only outside contact being written letters to their parents and a call to their mothers twice a year. The trip is held in high reverence and the image of elders cruising through towns is a trademark of the Church.
For Havili, his football career had usually taken precedence over all else, including his religious plans. The senior had the opportunity to bring together his faith, high-level play and close family demands at Brigham Young University in Utah — the largest religious university in the country, located about 40 miles from his hometown — but chose not to do so.
Instead, the fullback looked to USC to help develop his talents and take him to the next level. As a standout running back out of Cottonwood High School in the heavily Mormon-populated Salt Lake City, Utah, Havili was strongly recruited by former BYU quarterback-turned-Trojan offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The two maintained a close relationship during their shared time at USC.
Havili’s decision to become a Trojan rather than go to the Church-centered university was “easy,” he said, because he wanted to compete with the best players in the nation.
“If I couldn’t compete here, then I’m not meant to play football anywhere else,” he said.
Havili saw some early playing time as a true freshman at USC in 2006, filling in at his usual fullback position.
Not before long, roadblocks were piling up in front of the rookie. His inaugural season with the Trojans was cut short when he broke his tibia early on playing against Arizona. And at the end of the season, Sarkisian flirted with the idea of filling the head coaching position with the Oakland Raiders, a move that would take him out of USC and away from his prized recruit Havili.
Faced with an approaching 19th birthday, a broken leg, the prospect of a close coach walking away and the lingering vision of going on a mission trip — something he had always imagined doing — Havili faced a decision that would ultimately decide his future as a football player. The fullback had to choose between staying to play football at USC and leaving for two years.
“My dad and mom wanted me to go on a mission, but it was totally up to me,” Havili said. “It was whatever felt right — [the decision] wasn’t concrete. I didn’t know if I was going to stay or go.”
He did what he had been taught to do his entire life — look to his faith for answers.
“We prayed and prayed, and we got a few blessings, and [staying to play football] is what I decided to do,” Havili said. “I needed to pursue this.”
Since then, Havili has committed to working toward a career as a professional football player, and he plans to enter the upcoming draft after he finishes his senior season.
Although the NFL remains the ultimate goal, the prospect of fulfilling his mission still lingers.
“Hopefully down the road when I’m married and retired, I can go on my mission,” he said.
Havili might have postponed his hiatus from the working world, but the senior remains anchored in his beliefs. When asked about how he currently balances his faith, football, school and the day-to-day rigors of collegiate life, he said he always remembers one lesson.
“Live your life the right way, the way you have been taught from primary on,” he said. “Live and do the right thing.”