Sonatane Lui didn’t know Jamie Land or her 10-year-old son, Liam, when he walked across the field at Veterans Memorial Stadium last Saturday to thank them for coming to the Boise State football team’s season-opening victory against Troy.
Lui didn’t know Liam had autism, or that the start of fifth grade had been a bit rough for the little boy from Columbus, Georgia.
What Lui did know was that Liam was wearing a Boise State T-shirt in Trojan territory, and that automatically made them friends.
“Liam has not had a lot of great luck in school this year. You know, fifth grade is a little bit harder. People are a little bit meaner,” Jamie Land explained a few days later. “So we’d actually been praying for kindness, and God just showed up and sent (Lui) over and showed us the biggest act of kindness we’ve ever seen.”
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During their brief interaction, Lui — the Broncos’ starting nose guard — handed a speechless Liam his Boise State gloves and told him he was now a part of the team.
Jamie posted on Facebook later that night how much that small act of kindness had meant to her son, calling Lui a “true role model” and her “son’s new hero.”
“He’s in a state where nobody can affect him right now,” Jamie said. “... He has been loving on those gloves ever since. He sleeps with them on. He’s been carrying them around everywhere. It’s a good thing he wears uniforms to school or he would definitely try to wear those things to school, too.”
Through the magically small world of Facebook, one of Lui’s relatives ended up seeing Jamie’s post and pointed it out to Lui.
He then reached out to Jamie and Liam.
“I found out they live in Georgia, and I talked to them a little bit on Facebook,” Lui said. “They’re a really cool family.”
Lui said he spotted Liam in the Troy crowd after the game because he was the only fan in the Trojans end zone wearing a blue Boise State shirt. Jamie and her family were at the game to watch her younger brother perform on Troy’s drum line.
While the rest of the Land family was in Troy colors, Liam had on his Boise State shirt, blue socks and blue shoes.
“He’s a champ. I love him, and I really like our fans like that,” Lui said. “... Seeing a kid over there all by himself (in blue), cheering by himself, to me he earned (the gloves).”
Liam has always loved watching football, and he first learned about Boise State a few years ago when his dad turned on the TV and he saw the “awesome” blue field at Albertsons Stadium.
If Boise State wasn’t already his favorite team, it certainly is now.
Liam said he was at a loss for words when Lui handed him the gloves, but he was thinking, “this is just the best day of my life.”
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR SONATANE LUI
Your singing talents are well known, so we want to know, who is the worst singer on the team?
“(Sophomore defensive tackle) Jabari Watson, I’ll make fun of a lot. He knows he can’t sing, so he sings extra loud, but I always tell people I don’t care how well you sing, I just care if people try to sing. He kind of took that literally and I gave him an inch, he went a mile with it.”
You can play multiple instruments. What’s your favorite?
“Guitar, easily. Ukelele is good, it’s fun, but I feel like it’s kind of limiting. Guitar has a full sound, you can take it with you. In high school, me and the rest of the Polynesian kids, we’d go around the halls during lunch, making songs.”
At Utah, your defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a coached your cousin Star Lotulelei (a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2013). What did you learn from him?
“A lot of guys played for Utah, BYU I looked up to that I was related to. Not all of them played my position, not all of them did what Star did. We’ll be watching film, (Kauha’aha’a) will show us an example of what he wants us to do. He’ll say ‘watch everyone except No. 92’ because (Star) was just a monster, did whatever he wanted. … Star said it’s more than just being bigger than everyone else. You have to think about things. He was a master of timing up snap counts, getting a jump on the offense. A big part of my game is trying to figure out offenses.”
You grew up in Reno before moving to Utah. Did you cheer for Nevada?
“I grew up a big UNR fan, pretty much until I got here. A lot of the guys know. I’ll make jokes like ‘ooh, Nevada won today’ and they’ll be like ‘why do you care?’ It was really fun (playing them last season). That was unfortunately a game I got hurt. I played the entire game on it, saw David (Moa) and Durrant (Miles) go out and I was like, ‘I guess I’ll limp all game.’ ”
What would be your superhero superpower and who would be your sidekick?
“I guess I’d want the power to fly. It’s such a basic answer, but I’d want it so I could give people rides places. What good is flight if you have to go by yourself? I’d pick (redshirt freshman LB) Zeke Noa, because he can sing, too. He’s just one of my favorite people on the team. Most definitely he’d have super strength — we’ll walk down the hall here, just touch his shoulders like, ‘Do you ever not work out?’ ”