HURRICANE — Charlie Sefita was so much more than one play. But the young man, who died late Saturday night from complications due to pneumonia and a weakened heart, will forever be remembered for that one play.
Sefita, a first-team all-state linebacker in 2014 for the Hurricane Tigers, made a play many fans will never forget.
It was the 2014 3AA State Semifinals at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Hurricane held a slim 17-14 lead with under two minutes to play, but Desert Hills had driven the length of the field and had a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line.
Someone had to make a play or the game, and the season, was lost.
Thunder quarterback Nick Warmsley rolled right on an option play, but Sefita read the play and blazed a beeline to Warmsley, lowering his head just in time to knock the ball 10 feet in the air. Tyson Yardley plucked the loose pigskin out of the sky to stop the scoring threat. Hurricane then ran out the remaining time to clinch a spot in the 3AA championship game.
What followed was classic Charlie Sefita. After the game, he was quickly surrounded by reporters and video cameras. With the tapes rolling, Sefita flashed that infectious smile and entertained the crowd.
“That was a helluva hit by me,” he told one reporter, drawing a chuckle. Then, realizing how that sounded, he amended it with “but without my teammates, I couldn’t be here.”
Sefita was surely in his element on the football field, but also with his ability to make people smile and laugh.
“Charlie was an unconditionally loving kid,” said Chris Homer, who coached and mentored Sefita during his time in Hurricane. “He loved people. He loved making them smile. And people loved him. He loved playing football, in practice and in games. And he always, always had a smile on his face.”
Sefita watched his older brother, Alex, win a state championship at Hurricane while Charlie was a freshman. He was a starter as a sophomore in a quarterfinal playoff loss to Juan Diego. And in his senior year, he was able to make “The hit” that sent the Tigers to the finals (they eventually lost to Dixie, but the win over Desert Hills was still an epic upset for the underdog Tigers).
Perhaps fittingly, the fumble caused by Sefita’s ferocious hit was recovered by Tyson Yardley. The two boys were more than teammates. They were almost literally brothers. Charlie and Alex Sefita moved into the Yardley home during high school to relieve a burden on their mother, who was raising 13 children on her own.
“I loved those two like they were my sons,” said Tyson’s dad, Ryan. “It didn’t start with them just moving in. There was no formal decision to move them in. Alex was the same age with my son, Preston, and Charlie was the same age as Tyson and they were such good friends. They were over all the time anyway, so I guess it just evolved.”
Having the Yardleys there for Charlie was big in another way as well. Charlie was battling some severe health problems in seventh grade. He had contracted rheumatic fever, which had developed from a case of strep throat. The sickness damaged one of Charlie’s heart valves. Ryan Yardley was able to be there when doctors told Charlie and his mother, who was still struggling with the English language, that he needed open heart surgery to replace the valve.
“I haven’t shared this with too many people, but the one thing Charlie asked the surgeon, and he looked him right in the eye, was if he was going to be able to play football again,” Ryan Yardley said. “It was a driving force in his rehab. He had to watch his brothers play while he sat out a year. He was happiest when he was playing football and he couldn’t wait to get back out there.”
Charlie wasn’t able to play football his eighth grade year, but he was so well-liked among his peers that he was voted as an all-star that year, even though he didn’t play a down of football.
But Sefita had such a magnetic personality that the vote should have surprised no one.
“He had this special ability to be liked and to lead,” Homer said. “He wasn’t a rah-rah kind of leader, but people just followed him anyway. He had an impact on our high school like few have ever had.”
Gordon Dotson, who also coached the Sefita boys at Hurricane, posted a poignant message on Charlie Sefita’s Facebook page.
“One of my favorite, all-time people/players died today,” Dotson wrote. “He ALWAYS made me smile or laugh at some funny or goofy thing he said or did. Many will remember Charlie for the ‘hit’ against D-hills … I will always remember his genuine love he had for people and life.”
Carl Franke, who coaches Desert Hills and was witness firsthand to the “hit,” also had a poignant post on Instagram.
“Charlie always played the game the way it should be played, with passion and love and with joy,” Franke wrote. “As I walked off the field two years ago at Rice Eccles, I walked off proud that I knew we lost a game not because we lost it on our own, but because the Tigers played a great game and Charlie made the play of the year for his team that night … Charlie’s heart didn’t fail that day, instead he used all of it to carry his team, his community and especially his family.”
Ryan Yardley said Sefita hadn’t been feeling good for about a month and he had urged Sefita to go to the doctor. Saturday morning, things turned serious and Sefita was checked into the hospital with pneumonia. Not long after, Sefita went into cardiac arrest. Apparently the pneumonia was taxing the heart, especially his temporary heart valve.
Still, the prognosis seemed OK. Ryan Yardley said the doctors seemed very positive about Sefita’s chances, even as he was being Life-Flighted to Salt Lake City.
“Before he left, everybody, including the doctors, felt like everything would be fine,” Yardley said. “But when he got up there, things took a turn for the worse. I guess he had so much internal bleeding that they weren’t able to do the procedure. They said there was basically nothing they could do. We barely made it up there in time to say goodbye.”
It’s hard to sum up a life with so much potential ahead. The 19-year-old Sefita planned on playing football at Snow College. He surely had dreams of a wife and family, a career, perhaps even in football. But Sefita touched so many people in his short life.
“He was the type of kid that wherever you saw him and whatever he was doing, that he always had a smile and a handshake for you,” Homer said. “And he was that way with everyone. He brought joy where ever he went.”
Charlie Sefita, as evidenced by the incredible outpouring of emotion and love shown on social media, was able to touch a lot of lives, something his father had hoped would happen.
“He lost his dad tragically just before they came to America from Samoa about eight years ago,” Yardley said. “But his dad had a dream for his family to come here and have more opportunities for success. One thing we think about is that he is now with his dad, that they are having a happy reunion right now.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up by Ryan and Amy Yardley to help cover the expenses incurred for the medical care as well as the funeral expenses for Charlie Sefita. In less than 10 hours on Sunday, the account had already raised more than $6,000.
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