TJ Taimatuia ends every night with a prayer.
He gives thanks for his family, for his friends and Hawaii football teammates, for his blessings.
What is not routine is where Taimatuia will spend each night.
One evening it could be on a teammate’s couch. Another it could be on a relative’s floor.
"I’m just thankful I have a roof over my head," Taimatuia said.
Taimatuia is supposed to be living in a UH dorm. Instead, he keeps a small portion of a scholarship check that is supposed to cover room and board, then gives the rest to his family.
His parents had both worked in American Samoa. But their savings were drained to pay for two funerals and their relocation to Hawaii after another son needed extensive medical treatment for a severe infection. His father’s job does not cover all of the expenses. His parents live with relatives.
"I wish I could help more," Taimatuia said. "I do whatever I can. Any checks that come in, I give to them."
Taimatuia said he does not care about new clothes or electronic equipment. His prized possessions are his football playbook and a Bible.
"All I need is my family and loved ones and God," Taimatuia said. "I don’t need to impress anyone. I’m thankful I have clothes to wear. I don’t want anyone to worry about where I’ll sleep or what I’ll eat. I’ll survive. I have faith. I always put my family before me, and I always put God before my family."
Taimatuia has led a nomadic life. He was born in American Samoa, then moved back and forth between California and Hawaii. As an Artesia High student, he lived with an aunt and uncle.
He was a basketball player at first before deciding to focus on football. His footwork on the court translated to agility on the field.
He did well at a Southern California camp, leading to an invitation to a UCLA camp, where he also excelled. In another camp, he was named the best of 60 linebackers.
After that, the scholarship offers materialized. UCLA, Arizona, Washington and Utah showed the most interest. And then three weeks before the signing date in 2010, he received a call from the UH coaches.
"I always wanted to come back," he said of his decision to commit to UH. "I think a lot of people were surprised."
During the 2010 training camp, he ascended to top backup to defensive end Paipai Falemalu. But Taimatuia suffered a broken foot and, to his surprise, life was not put on "pause."
"I realized it’s a man’s game," Taimatuia said. "When you get hurt, there’s no catering. You’re treated like a man. And they keep going. They don’t stop to wait for you to get better. They close the gate and keep marching."
The injury led to a spiraling of misfortune. His father’s older brother died. Then his grandmother died. Then his brother suffered the infection.
"Everything was rough," he said. "We live by faith. That’s our family’s theme: Live by faith and not by sight."
Taimatuia played well this past spring. He was promoted to the first team, then was moved from the strong side to the middle.
"He’s doing a great job," defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer said.
He also found a second family.
"That’s this football team," Taimatuia said. "It doesn’t matter where I’m going to go, at the end of the night, I know I’ll have people I can trust."