Member of the Vimahi family (including mother Lori Vimahi in black cap) gather outside the Rose Bowl following the 2022 bowl game that pitted Ohio State versus Utah. The family holds a poster of the late family patriarch, Bishop David Vimahi. (Photo courtesy of Lori Vimahi)
Latter-day Saint mom cheering for three sons on top-10 football teams (a Ute, a Buckeye & a Blue Dragon)
The Vimahi family patriarch — the late Bishop David Vimahi — remains a guiding presence in the lives of his loved ones.
By Jason Swensen
29 Dec 2022
Attention, college football coaches intent on making a splash in the national rankings: Rostering one of the Vimahi brothers is a wise place to start.
Latter-day Saint siblings Aliki, Izaya and Enokk Vimahi are each playing on college football squads that finished high in the final regular season polls.
Elder brother Aliki Vimahi is a defensive tackle for the 8th-ranked, Rose Bowl-bound University of Utah.
Middle brother Izaya Vimahi is an offensive lineman for Hutchinson Community College (Kan.), an elite top junior college program that reached the 2022 JC national title game.
And 310-pound “baby” brother Enokk Vimahi is a proud Buckeye, manning the O-line for the 4th-ranked Ohio State University preparing for the 2022 College Football Playoff.
The brothers’ mother, Lori Vimahi, is grateful for modern-day technology.
The Oahu, Hawaii, woman can stream her boys’ games on Saturday. “And I’m thankful for our Sunday family Zoom calls where we check in on each other,” she said. “It’s always great to have everyone together.”
Saturday games and Sunday video calls are bittersweet for the Vimahis. A seat at every football game and family gathering is conspicuously empty. The family’s beloved patriarch and football mentor, David Vimahi, passed away last year just weeks before sons Aliki and Enokk lined up against each other in the 2022 Rose Bowl.
Despite chronic health struggles, David Vimahi was serving faithfully as the bishop of the Kahuku 2nd Ward at the time of his death.
Prior to the bowl game between Utah and Ohio State, Enokk asked his mother to make a poster-sized photo of their father and bring it to Pasadena. The game was a classic, with the Buckeyes edging out the Utes 48-45 in the closing seconds.
As the final horn sounded, the Vimahi brothers embraced before retrieving the poster from their mother.
“Together, they unraveled the banner and held up their dad’s picture,” remembered Lori Vimahi, her voice cracking. “I was very proud. I cried to see them together with that poster of their father. It had been their dad’s dream for his sons to play in a big bowl game.”
Meanwhile, the family has enjoyed watching Izaya establish his own collegiate football bona fides at perennial national title contender Hutchinson CC.
“To have all this come to fruition for my family,” said Lori Vimahi, “is so exciting.”
Linked by family, faith & football
Faith, football and family are sturdy links connecting the Vimahis across geographical distances and mortality’s veil.
A Tonga native, David Vimahi moved to California’s Bay Area when he was a little boy. He discovered football in his youth and played offensive line at Ricks College and for a season at Brigham Young University. He married Lori, started a family and eventually moved to football-crazed Kahuku, Hawaii.
The Vimahis believed academics and athletics were paths for their four sons to claim quality educations. Eldest son Tyson concentrated on his studies, eventually graduating from BYU. Tyson’s three younger brothers excelled on the gridiron at Kahuku High School.
“Football was everything for my husband,” said Lori Vimahi. “He always made sure the boys gave their best… ‘Friday night lights’ is a big thing for us.”
Aliki began gleaning recruiting attention while still a sophomore at Kahuku High. He entertained offers from Virginia and USC before committing to Utah. His family in the Pacific Islands wondered how he would survive Salt Lake City winters.
“Then Aliki ended up serving his mission in Pittsburgh, where it would drop below zero,” said Lori Vimahi, laughing. “His mission prepared him to play in Utah. Now he is able to endure the cold.”
Meanwhile, younger brother Izaya served in the “heavy coat required” Idaho Pocatello Mission before reporting to Hutchinson CC.
“Moving to Kansas was another culture shock for a kid from Hawaii,” said Izaya’s mother. “Thank heavens Izaya had served in an Idaho mission, so it wasn’t too bad.”
A four-star recruit at Kahuku High, Enokk had his choice of some of college football’s most elite programs. He considered playing for Oklahoma or Notre Dame before settling on Ohio State.
His first year in Columbus, more than 4,000 miles away from home, was difficult. “But Enokk persevered and stayed at Ohio State — and now he feels right at home,” said Lori Vimahi.
No surprise, the family matriarch has a dresser filled with Ute, Buckeye and Hutchinson Blue Dragon gear. But when the Rose Bowl stars aligned last year, pitting Aliki’s Utah team against Enokk’s OSU squad, Lori Vimahi had a customized gameday shirt made featuring both of her sons in action.
“People saw me wearing that shirt at the game and said, ‘Oh, you’re that mom’,” she said, laughing.
“Why I fell in love with the game”
While the Vimahi family’s football journey is constantly changing, their Latter-day Saint faith is immovable. Lori Vimahi said her husband's decision to keep serving as the bishop even while battling health challenges was an example of faith and service for his four sons.
“If it wasn’t for the Church and the gospel, I don’t know how I would have made it,” she said.
Prior to the 2022 season, Enokk spoke of his father’s lasting influence: “He was everything to me. He was the reason why I fell in love with the game.”
On the day that Bishop Vimahi died, his sons were scattered across the U.S. mainland pursuing their pigskin and academic dreams. Lori Vimahi contacted each of her sons’ bishops to ensure they would receive spiritual support and priesthood blessings.
“As a mom, it was so comforting to know that someone was there to help them.”
Now huge post-season games await Ohio State and Utah.
The next time the family is together in Kahuku, Enokk owes his big brother Aliki the biggest steak in Oahu. Utah’s win over Southern Cal in the Pac-12 title game opened the door for Ohio State to qualify for the College Football Playoff and contend for a national championship.
No matter the outcomes for her sons’ teams, Lori Vimahi knows their father remains close. He is ever-present and proud.
“The past few years,” she said. “It has been so much fun just following our boys and keeping up with them.”
The Vimahi brothers, from left, Aliki (Utah), Izaya (Hutchinson CC) and Enokk (Ohio State) — compete on college football teams that finished the 2022 season near the top of the national polls.
Enokk Vimahi embraces his father, Bishop David Vimahi, after announcing his decision to play college football at Ohio State University. (Photo courtesy of Lori Vimahi)