SALT LAKE CITY — Isaac Asiata is all about family, whether it’s his family name or his adopted family at the University of Utah.
Asiata, who will be a starter on the Ute offensive line for the third straight season, is the cousin of former Utah running backs Matt Asiata and Shawn Asiata. Although he’s not extremely close to either, he’s proud to share the Asiata name.
“I’m blessed and honored to have that name on my jersey to represent and continue the Asiata name here at Utah,’’ he said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for (Matt) and what he’s doing with the Vikings. He and Shawn did a great job of setting the standard pretty high so I’m just trying to live up to it and follow in their footsteps.’’
Then there’s his Utah family, which he can’t say enough good things about.
“Teams all across the nation will preach they have family-oriented teams, but I truly believe that there’s none like there is at the University of Utah,’’ he said. “I know guys that play for other teams and I hear things, but it’s different here. It really is a family deal.’’
Asiata believes that some kids look at schools for the wrong reasons, like the name of the program or the kind of uniforms they wear.
“But when you’re in the grind of camp and you’re not getting the reps, it’s your teammates that keep you around,’’ he said. “I honestly believe that is the only thing that kept me going when I wasn’t doing too well or wanted to give up, was my (Ute) brothers. That’s really what it comes down to. My closest friends are my teammates and it goes beyond being friends and once they’ve gone on and they come back they’re still family.’’
Asiata originally came to Utah from Spanish Fork High School, where he was a two-year all-state player and team captain. As a junior he was recruited only by BYU, but wasn’t really happy about ‘getting stuck there,’’’ so when Utah later offered, he committed within a couple of days, mostly because of the family atmosphere he felt there.
“I don’t mean any disrespect (to BYU), but once Utah came in the picture I kind of shut it down,’’ said Asiata, who also was recruited by Washington and Utah State.
He redshirted as a freshman before embarking on an LDS mission to Oklahoma. When he returned, he gradually worked his way up the depth chart until he was starting at right tackle for four games, including the last three of the season.
In 2014, Asiata was moved back to his more natural position at guard and manned the right side for seven games and six on the left side. This year, he’s entrenched as the left guard on a line that returns four of five starters.
“He’s a really strong kid,’’ said offensive line coach Jim Harding. “He’s done a nice job at left guard, done a better job becoming a leader and he’s embraced that role.’’
Asiata is confident about this year’s Utes, saying, “We’re miles ahead of last year.’’ He also said the offensive line has made great improvement since he first came to Utah in 2011.
“I’m not taking anything away from the kids who were here before, but the O-linemen have been progressively getting more athletic,’’ he said. “They’ve improved especially since coach Harding got here. He made a point that we are the most important unit so that we need to start acting like it in everything we do. There’s a high emphasis on if we’re taking care of things outside of football and what we’re doing off the field then things on the field are going to follow suit.’’
One last thing about Asiata. When he’s not playing football, he loves the outdoors — hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.
“I enjoy snowboarding,’’ he said. “I don’t think you see too many 315-pound guys on the slopes.’’