Utah grad transfer Vaha Vainuku ‘fired up’ to come out of retirement, play for Huskers

Somewhere between Lincoln and Salt Lake City, Vaha Vainuku looked out the window at the clouds 30,000 feet above the ground, and smiled.

He was really going to play football again.

“Some nights you can’t sleep and you just miss it and you just keep dreaming of football and you keep wishing for what could have been,” Nebraska’s newest defensive tackle said. “I don’t know, man, I’m just excited. I don’t think anyone could ever know what I’m going through right now. I’m really fired up to a level I can’t even express.”

Vainuku committed to Nebraska on Friday after a visit to Lincoln. He will turn 25 in October and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Vainuku committed to Utah as a senior in 2011, and was part of the Utes’ 2012 recruiting class as the No. 82 defensive tackle in the country. After committing, he spent two years on a church mission in Oakland, California. And in January 2015, he returned to Utah and suited up.

During his first padded practice, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound lineman from Salt Lake City suffered a Lisfranc fracture, tearing two ligaments in his right foot. He had two surgeries, but he wasn’t the same. He appeared in two games in 2016. In 2017, he retired from football.

For a year, he tried to find his way. But he found himself alone in his apartment in tears, missing practices and offseason weight training.

“Sometimes you dread practice, like, ‘Damn I got practice. It’s gonna be hot and I’m gonna be tired,’ and all that,” Vainuku said. “But surprisingly, this past year that was one of the things I really missed. I really wished I was out there sweating and grinding with my boys.”

Long story short, I need to learn how to husk corn now!🌽 lol Beyond grateful to be able to play this game again and to do it for this stud of a Coach! Lets go Husker Nation🔴⚫️⚪️ #GBR pic.twitter.com/o5oiG65yrM

— Vaha Vainuku (@Vee_Stringz1) June 1, 2018

So in April 2018, he reached out to his high school coach and told him to put out some feelers. He wanted to play football again.

Nebraska, Hawaii and Oregon State wanted in. And the Huskers jumped to the top of Vainuku’s list when defensive coordinator Erik Chinander visited him in person last Thursday.

Chinander invited Vainuku to Lincoln. So he hopped on a flight and spent the past two days talking X’s and O’s with defensive line coach Mike Dawson and Chinander.

“It felt right. It just felt right,” Vainuku said. “That a Big Ten school — to say the least it’s Nebraska — to show interest in me, as wild as my story is and as wild as the things I’ve been through, for Nebraska to even show the slightest interest in me was very humbling,”

Nebraska wants to play him everywhere from nose tackle to defensive end. And Vainuku is more than OK with that.

He needs to finish up some housekeeping in Salt Lake City, but said he should be in Lincoln by next week.

When he returned to his apartment Friday night, he looked around. In this apartment, where he had cried himself to sleep, where he contemplated hanging up his cleats, everything felt different.

“I got to my room and I was like, ‘Gosh dang. This really happened,’” he said. “I’m in the same room and I’m just a different person. I’m happy and I’m ready and I’m fired up.”

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Elizabeth Elena Laguna-Salgado, a Provo woman missing since 2015, has been found dead in Hobble Creek Canyon, reports say

Elizabeth Elena Laguna-Salgado, taken during her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Courtesy photo

A spokesman for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office would not comment Wednesday, except to say that a news conference will take place Thursday morning in Spanish Fork.

The discovery, it seems, would bring an end to a mystery that began April 16, 2015, when Laguna-Salgado, then 26, disappeared while walking home from classes at the Nomen Global Language Center in Provo. She sent a text to her sister in Mexico at 1:30 p.m., and her cellphone pinged for the last time from a tower near the school and her home not long after that.

Provo police investigated her disappearance, aided by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Interpol and other agencies. Hundreds of tips came in from across the country, but none turned up any clues to Laguna-Salgado’s whereabouts.

Laguna-Salgado had earned a college degree in her native Mexico. She followed that by going on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and coming to Utah to study English — which she still had not learned when she disappeared.

“We have hope and we have faith,” her brother, Rosenberg Salgado, said last month. “The Lord is going to help us find her. You always have to think positive.”

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Maya Hawke makes the most of ‘Little Women’ screen debut for PBS

This image released by PBS shows, from left, Kathryn Newton, Willa Fitzgerald, Maya Hawke and Annes Elwy in "Little Women," airing on PBS Sundays, May 13 and May 20, (MASTERPIECE on PBS, BBC and Playground via AP)

Little readers have long embraced “Little Women” and found inspiration in the character of Jo March, a headstrong young writer out to conquer the world.

Maya Hawke counts herself among the latest generation of fans of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century novel. But the lucky Hawke takes it one step further: She stars as Jo in a new version of “Little Women,” airing consecutive Sundays, May 13 and May 20, on PBS’ “Masterpiece” showcase (7 p.m. Sunday, PBS/Channel 7).

Lucky viewers, as well. The 19-year-old Hawke plays Jo with a coltish vibrancy that suits the role, and with an easy confidence that belies her resume: The drama is her first screen credit, with a part in the next season of “Stranger Things” following close behind.

“Little Women” held such appeal for Hawke that she left New York’s Juilliard School for it, a move that runs in the family: Her parents, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, both interrupted their studies when the professional world beckoned.

“This story spoke to me. … I love novels, and the script was really well-written, because the book is well-written, and I wanted to get to speak those words,” Maya Hawke said in an interview. “I didn’t know if I was going to get to play it again, if ever, so I had to jump on it.”

The project was a draw for another reason. Jo’s literary passion helped Hawke in her struggle with dyslexia.

“Her drive and her love of language and storytelling really sparked my interest, and really inspired me to overcome the obstacles that were in my way, which were much more personal and less societal than hers, and follow my dreams and pursue what I love,” Hawke said.

She quickly adds: “But not at the expense of my family and my relationships. And that balance between relationships, obligations, family, friends, love and passion and work is a very important thing to have come together.”

Hawke’s answers, candid and delivered in flowing sentences, reveal a young woman who has pondered how to approach life and her place in the world. She doesn’t balk at discussing any topic — including following her successful parents (who divorced when she was a child) into acting.

“I understand the advantages that come from having parents in the industry. I understand the disadvantages,” she said. “I know that I’m really lucky. And I appreciate that luck and I hope to use that luck to do as well as I can and then to share it with as many people as possible. That’s my real goal.”

She does take issue with the notion that the offspring of people in the arts mimic their relatives’ careers just because they can.

“I love acting and storytelling more than most people in their right mind, and I’m only doing it because I’m (expletive) crazy about it, and couldn’t do anything else and care more about it than I should,” Hawke said.

Asked about her other loves, she reels off animals, travel, the visual arts and, especially, writing: “I keep a journal. I write poetry. I work on plays. … It’s a really good way to keep working on your creativity during your downtime as an actor,” she said.

Hawke has dabbled in high-fashion modeling (which kicked off her mom’s career), but tackled a day of promotion for “Little Women” dressed down in a black sweater and pants topped by a jeans jacket, and wearing just a trace of makeup.

“She’s so bright. She’s very aware of how the business works, obviously, because of her parents,” Watson said, but sought guidance on the unfamiliar technical aspects of filming.

“It was lovely to have somebody so hungry to learn. … She was really, really genuinely humble about the experience she was having. Very passionate,” said the two-time Oscar nominee.

The New York-based Hawke, who attended Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn and took part in summer studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, is learning to navigate the post-academic world.

“I’m slowly but surely starting to build a community of other people who are in a similar place as me. … Who went to school for a while and left or who are sort of in the arts and forging their own path. And that’s a really exciting thing, because there was a while where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m the only person in the whole world making this choice.’”

“It’s hopping onto the road less traveled by. And then you spend a little time on the road less traveled by and you look around and there’s a lot of good company there.”

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Trying to stem the skyrocketing price of Utah housing is goal of new Salt Lake Chamber coalition

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Housing Gap Coalition formed by the Salt Lake Chamber will encourage local governments to adopt land-use policies promoting mixed-use developments, such as this one in Sugar House. More high-density housing within a mix of residential offerings will be essential to keep the future cost of buying and renting within the means of all Utahns.

Utah Jazz executive Steve Starks doesn’t want his daughters to grow up and find they can’t afford a decent place to live around here because housing prices are steadily escalating faster than incomes.

So Starks is serving as chairman of a Salt Lake Chamber initiative, dubbed the Housing Gap Coalition, whose intent is to work with local governments to lower regulatory fees and to revise zoning policies to encourage more high-density housing amid single-family homes, small apartments and retail spaces.

“We want to keep the ‘American Dream’ alive for future generations,” said Starks, president of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, which includes the Jazz. “This has nothing to do with my day job, but it affects all of us. … Utah has had a competitive advantage because of affordability and quality of life. We want to make sure that continues.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A view of Salt Lake City’s changing skyline looking eastward on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. A Housing Gap Coalition formed by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is going to encourage local government officials to adopt more flexible zoning policies and to cut regulatory fees to stimulate the development of more types of housing, particularly units affordable for lower income people, in all parts of the Salt Lake Valley.

Chamber President Derek Miller launched the initiative Tuesday, right after the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released the final version of a detailed research report illustrating that Utah is heading toward an affordability crisis if something isn’t done now to bridge the gap between sprinting housing prices and plodding wage hikes.

“It’s not like we have a crisis now, but certainly this trajectory is something that certainly raises a concern,” said James Wood, lead author on the 45-page report, noting that housing prices in Utah over the past 26 years, a full generation, have gone up 3.3 percent annually, the country’s fourth highest rate. If they maintain that pace, in 26 years the median price of a home in Salt Lake County would rise from $325,000 to $730,000.

Income growth, by comparison, is rising just 2.3 to 2.7 percent per year, leaving many people — but particularly those below the median income — without the resources to keep pace.

“Utah has a heritage of getting in front of problems,” said Miller, who came to the chamber from World Trade Center Utah. “We’ve seen the business community rally before and address large challenges, like transportation and education. I’m excited to address housing affordability. We want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the quality of living we’ve enjoyed and to have the option of staying here and being part of the community.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) An apartment building under construction at 400 S. 400 East in Salt Lake City on Tuesday May 1, 2018.

Utah’s population is surging internally and from in-migration. The economy is booming. Undeveloped land in the Salt Lake Valley is scarce and getting more expensive all the time. Rising interest rates will make it more costly to buy a house, and they’ll also put additional pressure on rental markets.

In a series of meetings, he said, coalition members will encourage cities, towns and counties to adapt their zoning codes to allow “for a variety of housing types and prices, meeting the needs of Utahns at all stages of life.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A TRAX train passes by new apartment homes under construction at 400 S. 400 East in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Local governments also will be asked to reduce impact and permit fees that either discourage housing construction or result in higher costs being passed on to consumers, Miller said.

“Our communities have to work together. We have to engage all of the Wasatch Front counties to think long term,” Starks added. “What levers can we pull now that will impact us [positively] 30 to 40 years down the road?”

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Salt Lake Century 21 real estate group ranked #1 in the world

Rick Davidson, President of the Century 21 Everest Group joined us to talk about the Everest Group, Cottonwood Heights office that was recently ranked the number one office in the world. The group has received top marks for the fourth year in a row.

The office is also hosting international visitors to share best practices to improve the consumer experience. Japanese visitors Mike Nash, General Manager of global business relations, and Ken Niwa, President & CEO of Century 21 Kouwahome.

To learn more about the Century 21 Everest Group visit c21Everest.com

This article contains sponsored content.

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University of Utah revamping its physics and astronomy department in the wake of a student’s suicide

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Students file out of the J. Willard Marriott Library on the University of Utah campus in November 2017.

A University of Utah report, commissioned after the apparent suicide of a graduate student, describes significant dysfunction within the school’s physics and astronomy department.

Overworked students are left aimless and their degree completion delayed, while a “factionalized” faculty prone to “temper flares” avoid contact with one another to mitigate disputes, according to a March 8 memorandum by outside attorneys Larry Perlman and Julie Lee.

“Currently, a number of faculty members refuse to speak with each other, pointing to issues with loyalty and trust,” the memorandum states. “The lack of communication amongst faculty members has had a negative impact on department morale.”

The attorneys, with the Florida law firm Foley and Lardner, were asked by university administrators to review issues and concerns related to the experience of U. graduate students after the October death of an international doctoral degree candidate.

Their memorandum was released by the university March 17, along with a statement outlining changes to the physics and astronomy department.

The department will not accept new graduate students during the 2018-19 academic year. And Peter Trapa, a U. professor of mathematics, will take over as chairman of the department.

“It comes down to better monitoring of the progress of graduate students,” U. spokesman Chris Nelson said of the leadership changes. “These students are spending too much time before they graduate the program.”

Allegations of abuse and sexual harassment by faculty accompanied the graduate student’s suicide, but the attorneys found no evidence to corroborate what it described as anonymous claims after interviewing more than 40 individuals, including U. faculty, staff and administrators, current and former student and the family and friends of the deceased.

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Could redshirt freshman Zach Katoa emerge as BYU’s every down running back?

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU opened spring football camp on Monday March 5 in the indoor playing facility. Head Coach Kalani Sitake speaks to the media after the first day’s practice.

Provo • Standout linebacker Fred Warner and BYU’s other football captains approached the coaching staff midway through last season and suggested that freshman returned missionary running back Zachary Katoa be given more playing time.

“They came up and said, ‘hey,’ we gotta play this guy. He’s one of our best players,’” said head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday after the Cougars wrapped up their seventh practice of spring camp. “We thought about it and decided it would just be best for him to [redshirt] and come in January.”

The former American Fork High standout is certainly here now. He ripped off a couple of impressive runs in Monday’s 11-on-11 sessions that featured hitting, but no tackling. Katoa, 6-foot-1, 205, signed with Oregon State when Sitake was there in 2015, but followed the coach to Provo when he returned from a mission to Independence, Mo., just a few days before school started last fall.

“Well, I recruited the kid, so he is probably a good one,” Sitake quipped. “He handles his business in the classroom and does well off the field. … I think [redshirting] has been really good for him. He’s a lot farther along than a lot of returned missionaries have been, including myself.”

Tailbacks such as Katoa, Riley Burt, Austin Kafentzis and Kavika Fonua and fullback Brayden El-Bakri got the bulk of the carries Monday while the most experienced running back in the group, senior Squally Canada, mostly watched. Two other experienced RBs, KJ Hall and Ula Toluta, are out with injuries.

Sitake and new running backs coach AJ Steward said last week that they haven’t decided yet whether they will tab an every down running back or go with a by-committee approach like last year.

“Guys are starting to emerge as good running threats for us and we will hope to have it settled by the time we get to the fall,” Sitake said.

Much was made about how the offense dominated the defense at last Thursday’s scrimmage, with the defensive-minded Sitake acknowledging the oftense “got the upper hand” in the full contact drills. But the third-year coach spent part of BYU’s spring break weekend watching film, and he wasn’t as hard on the defense’s effort on Monday.

“Not as bad,” he said. “There are some things we can work on. … I think it was good for some of the younger guys to get their ‘welcome to college football’ that way. The defense responded well when they came back today. That’s because we had a lot of the right guys in there.”

“It was really good film,” Sitake said. “More than anything, it was just good experience for those younger guys to get.”

“Right now we are just trying to lay down the basics and the fundamentals both offensively and defensively,” he said.

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Tax hike compromise to replace Our Schools Now easily clears first hurdle on Utah’s Capitol Hill

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Rebecca P. Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, speaks to her resolution HJR20 to forgo the Our Schools Now ballot initiative to raise money for public schools and instead raise it with a hike in the gasoline tax plan and tweaks to the state property tax rate.

If the first public debate in the Utah Legislature was any indication, a proposed compromise to boost school funding without the Our Schools Now ballot initiative appears poised for passage in the waning hours of the 2018 session.

Members of the House Political Subdivisions Committee voted late Wednesday 12-1 to move HJR20 to the full House for debate, following unanimously supportive testimony by members of the public.

“We support this bill,” said Beth Holbrook, president of the Utah League of Cities and Towns. “And we support the opportunity of the voters to go ahead and make this decision.”

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