“My parents are originally from Tonga; my father is from Houma, Tongatapu, and my mother is from Faleloa, Ha’apai.” As 6’3” 300 lb. senior offensive lineman, Junior Salt, shares his heritage, I immediately make a connection to him as the description is a familiar one. Informal and informative, the delineation of one’s ancestry is the epitome of the perpetuation of Pacific Islander oral traditions which resonates amongst those who identify as such. Salt then recounts the number of geographic moves he and his family made while at a very young age. Born in San Mateo and living in Oakland until the age of 8, the Salt family made the trek, two states and a time zone, over to Salt Lake City, Utah, a region which houses a veritable populace of the Pacific Islander community in the diaspora.
The football field at Brighton High in Sandy, Utah, became Junior’s home during his high school years as a budding student athlete. He was inspired by way-finders in the football arena, like Haloti Ngata, Sione Havili and Fui Vakapuna, who used athletics for the purposes of navigating higher education and, further, demystified the process for others who hoped to follow in their wake. “I’m not sure if they know that they are my role models because they triggered something in me…giving me hope to strive for something.”
As a tri-sport high school athlete, Salt participated in football, wrestling, and rugby. “Rugby helped me with my technique by helping me with balance, footwork, and tackling,” conveying the importance of fitness and conditioning during the off-season. His description of what athletics offers him, besides access to higher education and fitness, includes something often echoed by other athletes. “Sports are, like, my comfort zone where I could just get away and be in my own little world and do whatever.” This seemingly simple explanation speaks volumes about the character of sport and what it offers to those who choose to step onto the collegiate and professional platform.
When given the opportunity to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he traveled to the land of his ancestors and served on nearly every inhabited island in the chain. Growing up with emigrant grandparents who stressed reading and speaking the native tongue in the household, Salt was able to acclimate himself to his temporary home relatively easily. Survival of culture through intergenerational conversation is common with indigenous groups in the diaspora; something the Salt family practices and preaches. “Our culture does a great job portraying respect.”
Following his LDS mission and two years of football at Mount San Antonio College, a community college in southern California, Salt made the difficult decision to remain close to home at the University of Utah. His decision to choose the U over the University of Florida has enabled him to create an environment at home that is conducive for success in the areas of education and athletics. Thousands of athletes would consider themselves lucky to be recruited by the U, but Salt considers this opportunity a blessing. Blessings, as Salt enumerates, have been bountiful throughout his life. “One of those blessings is getting that scholarship and being able to be here close to home. I’m the first in my family to go to college and get a free education. It’s something my brothers look forward to and hopefully they can have the same passion as me by furthering their education.”
TWID asks, “What does the future hold for Junior Salt?” Salt discloses his plans for the future as a self-employed business owner. With a B.A. in Sports Management under his belt after graduation this spring, he hopes to combine his passions of providing athletic and talent management. He hopes to work in the areas of sports marketing, advertising, and publication relations. Salt feels that working behind the scenes in sports and fitness is just as important as on the field but wouldn’t mind coaching and working with the players. Being able to utilize his athleticism in sports to open up opportunities for himself and for his younger siblings is one of the most important factors to him. In the end Salt is very focused and ambitious and has his plan to move forward as an athlete. When asked what fuels his motivation, he quotes Steve Jobs,”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Article Written By: Elizabeth Lavulo