ROY — Otto Tia and his family packed up their bags and moved from Hawaii to Utah several years ago.
They were in for a surprise before the plane even landed.
“On the airplane ride when we came here, we came here when it was snowing, so we were like, ‘What is this?’ It was a weird feeling, but I came to love Utah,” Tia said after a recent high school football scrimmage at Roy High.
Tia’s mother worked for the military and recently retired. His father has a civilian job at Hill Air Force Base, he said.
Tia is a senior at Northridge High who plays wide receiver and defensive end. It’s not a common combination, but it was a combination that worked wonders once he became a regular starter in the second half of last season.
He caught 31 passes for 623 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, he had 28 tackles with four sacks, three tackles for loss, five interceptions and two forced fumbles despite not being a regular starter until a few games into the season.
“Wideout’s always been my favorite position,” Tia said. “Last year during summer camp I was like, ‘I’m gonna take a shot at D-line.’ So first I started off at defensive tackle ... then they realized I was pretty fast off the line, so they moved me to defensive end, which is good for me now.”
The first time anyone outside of Northridge really caught a glimpse of him was in the Knights’ second game last season against Farmington when Tia blocked a field goal, recovered the ball and scored a touchdown.
That was after he caught a lofted pass in the back of the end zone while being hauled down by a defensive back.
“His big breakout game was the Fremont game, before that he was back and forth, rotating with another guy at receiver just because he was kind of raw,” Northridge head coach Braden Mitchell said.
From there, it was a highlight reel of a season for him. He turned a 5-yard catch into a 65-yard, catch-and-run touchdown against Clearfield.
On defense against Woods Cross, he tipped a pass with his left hand, picked it off and returned it for a touchdown.
Now, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior is one of the most intriguing college football prospects in Davis and Weber Counties.
Tia has scholarship offers from Utah State and the University of Idaho, he said, with schools including Utah, Boise State, UCLA and Hawaii also interested.
His rise has been so fast that he’s not rated or ranked by any of the major college football recruiting services.
USU offered Tia a scholarship in April. It’s very likely more offers could come. Though a scholarship offer could be seen as a safety net for many, for Tia, it instead lit a fire.
“When I got my first offer from Utah State it was like a game-changer. Now that I’m getting on the radar, I need to up my game a little bit,” Tia said.
The college attention is not surprising once one sees what Tia can do on the field. He’s smart, fast and can go get just about any ball that’s thrown near him.
That’s amazing since, according to Mitchell, Tia didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year.
“So where he is now to where he was two years ago is unbelievable,” Mitchell said.
Tia, Mitchell and starting quarterback Colby Browning all expect opposing defenses to double-cover Tia, at the very least.
For Mitchell, he wants another receiver to step up so defenses can’t exclusively stalk the rising receiver.
For Tia, the only thing the expected double coverages are doing is challenging him to be better at what made him so hard to stop last year.