ST. GEORGE — Four Region 10 football players will take their talents to Division I schools next year and will stay at home in Utah.
In celebrations at both high schools Friday, Pine View seniors Dominique McKenzie and Marcus McKenzie — identical twins born 13 minutes apart — joined friend and teammate Peter Falaniko and committed to play football at Brigham Young University.
And at Desert Hills, senior Eric Olsen achieved his dream of playing college football and signed to move across town and play for Dixie State University.
The McKenzie brothers originally committed to play at the University of Virginia but changed their minds in favor of BYU after former Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall stepped down from his post with the Cavaliers.
“The flip kind of came after we realized that the staff that we really enjoyed would be gone,” Dominique McKenzie said.
It was almost fated that the McKenzie brothers would go to BYU.
Their father, Brian McKenzie, ran the football for BYU in 1996 and 1997. Their mother, Salote McKenzie, ran track for the Cougars. Several of their cousins played for Pac-12 teams, and some of them went on to the pros.
But the twins never felt pressured in any way to follow that athletic family legacy. They developed lightning quick speed over their careers at Pine View, both on the football field and on the track, where they were the top two sprinters in 4A last year.
“My dad didn’t really ever show his highlights,” Marcus McKenzie said. “The only way that me and Dom found out he was such a baller was that we dug up some VHS tapes and got to see how amazing he was.”
Fellow Panther Peter Falaniko followed a legacy path of his own by committing to BYU.
Listed on the roster at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, the tackle has a massive physical presence and he can play with great violence. And yet he has a calm and quiet disposition off the field.
When he was 8-years-old, Falaniko’s family moved from Hawaii to Utah, and that’s when he started playing football in St. George.
“Crazy feeling,” Falaniko said. “I never would have thought I’d be in this position, signing with BYU. Felt really good about it. Can’t wait to get up over there.”
Head coach Ray Hosner, in his 21st season, said the three Panthers will join six other players who graduated from Pine View to BYU.
“Now we have three in one year,” Hosner said. “I know that these guys will follow their footsteps academically, like they did, so it’s kind of fun.”
Over at Desert Hills, Eric Olsen signed his letter of intent to stay in St. George and play for Dixie State University.
Thunder head coach Rick Berry said he saw Olsen’s potential even before the football season started.
“He was right there leading by example, in the weight room, in the offseason programs,” Berry said. “Those are the kinds of kids you love to have, that are leaders like that.”
At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Olsen has ideal qualities in size and speed to play tight end and the versatility to play defense. Berry said he can move around and play different positions.
“He has so much upside,” Berry said.
Olsen said that playing for the Trailblazers will be the culmination of a lifelong pursuit.
“I fell in love with football when I was a little kid,” Olsen said. “I always wanted to play college football. I stuck to that dream and put in a lot of work to make it happen.”
Olsen went on to say that Dixie is building a program, and that takes time. Last year the Trailblazers completed their first season as a Division I team with only one win.
“I know they’re new as a D-I, so their record may not be appealing to a lot of people,” Olsen said. “But with the coaching staff they have right now, and all the stuff that’s going on at Dixie, I just got a good feeling and I think we’ll be right where we want to be in the next couple years.”
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