Utah football: After being shot in September, Manalo and Falemaka rededicated to football – Salt Lake Tribune
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They don’t want to be the ‘Utes Who Lived.’ Like their teammates, they hope to make their names on the field. And while they’ll never be fully removed from the shooting and will always bear the scars of the incident, their effort to be better football players is showing.
“I know one time, when we had roll call in the weight room, and we heard Marcel’s name, everyone was looking around like, ‘Wait, Marcel’s back already?’ ” senior lineman Isaac Asiata said. “So that just goes to show how tough those guys are. They got hurt, and now they’re right back in the mix.”
Manalo is the third running back on the depth chart, but could be up for more snaps given the way he’s been playing through two weeks of camp. Falemaka, whose given name is Haile, is listed as backup center, a new position he said he’s enjoying a lot.
But getting this far has been a painful process.
Manalo was shot twice — one bullet in his left side, and the other in his back — and lost a lot of blood at the scene, but was eventually released the same day he was admitted, and attended class the following Monday.
Falemaka’s wound was dire: He was shot below his belly button, and the bullet tore through his small intestine. He was hospitalized for more than a week as doctors worked to repair him.
After a recent practice, he lifted up his jersey to reveal a roughly 8-inch-long scar, resembling a millipede crawling up toward his chest. It hurts in the middle of practice. It hurts when he’s lifting.
“The recovery process took forever,” Falemaka said. “There were times where I was like, ‘This isn’t even worth it. Why am I even doing this?’ “
Manalo recounted the harrowing events of the shooting for the Tribune in December. Falemaka added that the shooter, one of three suspects who still haven’t been apprehended for the incident, was standing feet away from him. While a teammate’s girlfriend tried to push him away from the men, who had been booted from the party, there was no time to react once he saw the gun.
Neither said they ever expected to be in any danger so close to campus. Manalo’s parents flew to Salt Lake City the next day, and wanted to bring him home to Sacramento.
“They said, ‘We sent you to Utah because we thought it was going to be a nice place for you,’ ” Manalo recounted. “I said, ‘It’s still a nice place, it’s just a weird coincidence. A weird accident.’ I’m still 100 percent sure about being safe here. I’m not scared at all. It’s a nice place.”
A local star for Cottonwood High, Falemaka said he never felt threatened before in his hometown. But gun violence is also not unfamiliar to his family: Within a week of the shooting, Falemaka said his cousin was also shot, and they ended up on the same floor of the University of Utah hospital at the same time.
But while his cousin has since moved out of the state, Falemaka has stayed with the Utes to continue his football career. The support of his teammates has helped.