A walk-on no longer


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Life as a walk-on athlete is not exactly glamorous. 

You put in the same amount of work as scholarship athletes, but you have to pay your own tuition, rent, buy your own food and books. Nothing is given to you.

But when you work as hard as Utah offensive lineman Paul Toala does, that can change.

At a recent team meeting, head coach Kyle Whittingham announced Toala earned a full scholarship, and the team erupted in cheering.

Asked if he knew Whittingham was going to make the announcement, Toala said, “I was hoping for sure. I was dreaming and hoping it would come, but no I didn’t. It’s for sure a dream come true. For sure a dream come true.”

“That’s always a great thing, and Paul has earned it,” Whittingham said. “He’s never asked for anything. He just came to work everyday and busted his butt. Those are the kind of guys you like to reward are guys that aren’t in your office everyday asking for a scholarship. They just work hard.”

“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of extra hours,” said Toala. “But it makes a big difference when you know that other people are seeing that hard work pay off.”

And to see his teammates react the way they did was almost overwhelming.

“It was a humbling experience seeing all my teammates join me,” Toala said. “I wanted to celebrate it with them.”

How did Toala celebrate?

“With a lot of hugs and a lot of tears,” Toala said with a smile.

Toala said he would have kept playing for Utah even if he didn’t get a scholarship, but with an injury to center Lo Falemaka, he actually could become a starter on the offensive line.

“He’s certainly on our 2-deep,” Whittingham said. “He might be a starter.”

But just to have the financial burden of paying for school taken away, is a great relief.

“I was broke, but now I’m happy,” Toala said with a smile.

As for his wife, who works two jobs, what was her reaction?

“It was exactly just like mine,” said Toala. “We were happy together, so she can quit her second job now.”

Playing college football was a lifelong dream for Paul, a dream he hoped to be able to share with his mother, Rosalina. But three years ago, while on his mission, Rosalina passed away from ovarian cancer.

“I went on an LDS mission and then she passed away two months later,” Toala said. “It was hard, but she taught me how to work hard. So, I’m doing this for her, doing it for my wife, and doing it for this team. I think my mom is part of this team, so I’m doing it for them.”

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