Ulla Pomele loved football. It is what drove him through life.
But one day a voice went through his head and resounded through his heart. Football wasn’t enough for Pomele. He needed something to balance and complete his life. A piece of the puzzle was missing.
One day Pomele walked into his coach’s office at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Community College and told him he needed to do something.
What he told his coach that day would forever change the way he lives his life. And now, as Pomele likes to say — “All glory goes to God.”
Pomele grew up in a loud home in northern California. With five sisters and four brothers, it is easy to imagine the noise floating around his household.
He credits his parents for handling his siblings and teaching them right from wrong.
Pomele insists football has always been his passion. It’s easy to tell with his ever-pervasive smile when talking about the sport.
“I always loved the sport growing up,” Pomele said. “Growing up — that’s all we watched was football in my family. That was the main thing when I was little.”
But something held him back from playing the sport he loved. He didn’t start playing until his sophomore year of high school.
“I wasn’t able to play at a younger age in Pop Warner because I was overweight and I couldn’t play on my brother’s squad because I was too young,” he said.
But he picked up the game quickly. In his sophomore year at Elsie Allen High School, he was named his team’s defensive MVP.
A player of his size was sure to draw looks on the recruiting trail, but Pomele said college recruiters rarely paid visits.
“My school wasn’t good at all,” he said.
Pomele’s high school had been known for low academic success rates, part of the reason that coaches didn’t see it as fertile recruiting territory.
But Pomele, who is the first person to ever make it to college out of his family, wasn’t even sure he was suited for the life of a college student.
“I was so limited in my mind. I didn’t think I was intelligent enough to head off to college,” he said. “Plus, my family’s income was not enough for college.”
But Santa Rosa Community College was willing to give him a shot, and Pomele gladly accepted.
A life-changing decision
Pomele had accomplished a goal — he had made it to college. But something wasn’t there. He needed to add something to his life.
“I just really felt that I needed to get my spiritual life straight. Get it right and begin a relationship with Christ,” he said. “It’s not that I was living a terrible life, it was just that I was living a life without Christ.”
Pomele described it metaphorically as trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
“I had tried to substitute football and all of those other things first before my relationship with Christ,” he said. “But it wasn’t working. That’s when I really felt I needed to get on path.”
So Pomele reached out to his junior college coach, Keith Simons. He knocked on Simons’ door and told him he was leaving before ever playing a down of football at the school.
“My coach was shocked because he was really looking forward to me playing and helping the team out,” Pomele said. “He truly respected me. He didn’t want me to leave but he couldn’t decide for me.”
Pomele was headed out on a 10-month Masses Commission, putting his life on hold for a year to help out others.
He and the rest of his group teamed up to go out in communities and help elementary schools and high schools while displaying positive messages to them.
They went to different churches and youth groups to spread gospel.
Pomele said they also traveled to Mexico and built playgrounds and helped at orphanages while spending quality time with kids there.
“It helped me to see life in a whole new way and perspective,” Pomele said. “It helped me to see life in a better way in making more wise decisions, to see it in a greater way.
“I was just basically running with no vision. Now, with my relationship with Christ, I have a vision.”
He returned to Santa Rosa Community College after a year at the Masses Commission.
His stock rose immensely as he drew looks from several Division I colleges, including several Pac-10 schools before ultimately deciding on K-State. He was rated the No. 38 junior college player in the country by Rivals.com.
A different perspective
Pomele is a married college student. He tied the knot with his wife, Elizabeth, last December, just prior to arriving on K-State’s campus.
“As a newlywed I really thought that it would be something great for me and my wife to come out to the Midwest – somewhere we have never been and experience new things,” he said.
When practice is over he heads straight home to be with her, rather than hanging out with the guys and participating in many of the norms of college students.
“I miss my wife. She is a great supporter and a great encourager to us as well,” he said. “I give credit to her for going through this. She sacrificed and put aside her dream to help me out and my dream and that’s something very amazing about her.”
A new home
Pomele had never seen snow before coming to Kansas, something he described as “beautiful and amazing.”
But that wasn’t all that brought him here.
“What brought me here was coach (Ron) Prince. I really wanted to get my degree and be successful in my education,” he said. “When I came here the people were awesome. They are very embracing and very positive. That’s what really drew me out here.”
Pomele said college has been a life-changing experience for him and his family.
“It’s something amazing. I broke the cycle of being limited in our education – especially in a small culture,” he said. “We are so big on playing sports and we don’t really focus too much on education. But the truth is, sports aren’t always going to be there.”
Pomele is currently second on the team in tackles with 46, quite an accomplishment for someone who has only been playing football for five years.
Coach Ron Prince said Pomele showed great character when he recruited him.
“You checked both boxes,” Prince said. “He was a great player and a great person. He’s a kid who focuses on others ahead of himself. He’s very conscious of his part in the bigger world.”
Pomele says the game is beginning to slow down for him.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable with my reads,” he said. “Each game I am learning more and more and understanding the situations of the game.”
The smile once again glimmers across his face.
“Just being here is a great privilege,” Pomele said. “I am very honored to be out here. I don’t take it for granted.”