Big Dave helped place flags at the Scroll of Honor.
Big Dave helped place flags at the Scroll of Honor.

Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman


by - Senior Writer -

David Uiagalelei, known as “Big Dave” to his friends, walked out of Clemson’s Abernathy Hotel before the Tigers’ final home game against Pitt and tried to make his way to Memorial Stadium in time to watch his son, freshman quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, warm up. The journey took longer than expected, but that journey is merely an example of why Big Dave is the celebrity Clemson didn’t know it needed.

Big Dave isn’t hard to spot, whether he’s in Hollywood protecting one of his clients or in Clemson watching his son play. It’s easy to see a 6-4, 385-pound man of Samoan descent decked out in all orange, wearing the world’s biggest smile. He’s been the bodyguard for celebrities like Chris Brown, Nick Cannon, Meek Mill, Rihanna, DJ Khaled, and too many more to count.

But Big Dave’s life isn’t wrapped up in the celebrity lifestyle or the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood. Big Dave was born in southern California but spent most of his childhood in idyllic Hawaii. To Big Dave, life is not about work. Life is about family. About supporting your loved ones. So Big Dave is the biggest fan of DJ and his younger son Matayo, a rising star defensive end at Bellflower (CA) St. John Bosco.

Big Dave is all about family, and that’s why he’s the perfect fit for Clemson. And his celebrity reminds everyone at Clemson why this family is so special — why other programs can only look towards the upstate of South Carolina with jealousy. Yes, the big Samoan man from Cali feels right at home in little old Clemson, which is something he recognized from his first recruiting trip with DJ and a Bosco coach.

Big Dave helped place flags at the Scroll of Honor.
Big Dave helped place flags at the Scroll of Honor. "

“When I went with him, the first thing that I've noticed was just that it was out in the middle of nowhere,” Uiagalelei told TigerNet. “I'm thinking Clemson is in a city. Man, I'm going on a road, one way going this way and another one going one way that way, which is crazy. Then, all of a sudden, the school just pops up. Gorgeous. Beautiful. That was my first impression. That it’s so beautiful and peaceful. Oh, and the lakes? Oh, my gosh. Your lakes up there, I just want to jump in there and swim all day in the lakes. But that was my first impression on how beautiful the landscape was. And then meeting the coaches…..just that Southern love you guys have, genuine.”

It didn’t take long for Big Dave to recognize kindred spirits in the Clemson coaches.

“I'm a bodyguard. As a bodyguard, you've got to learn how to read people,” he said. “When I met them, everything was genuine. It wasn't like meeting some of these coaches out there. They'll say what you want to hear because they're trying to get your kid there. No, I knew everything they were saying to me was genuine. I knew the love they were showing was genuine. I was so just impressed with everything, how they treated us there. The part I love the most as well, how much they love my son, and even for me, just how they spoke about their faith. That was big, too. That was basically the part that I loved when I first got there.”

To Dabo Swinney, family is everything, and that resonated with the Uiagalelei family.

“In the Polynesian tradition, families are everything. It's normal in the Polynesian Islands to have your dad and mom live in one house and right around you,” he said. “Your brother is right here. Your sisters are right there, and your other cousins are over there. It's all about family. To me, Clemson just embodies that whole family thing. It definitely makes it easy for us to love each other. That's something we're used to, growing up. Yeah. I think that's why we are attracted to Clemson and playing ball out there because to me, you guys out there in the South are somewhat like the people in Hawaii. You can meet somebody in the elevator and you guys have known each other forever, for a long time. That's just how you guys are. You guys are very genuine people.”

THE BODYGUARD

If you have any kind of relationship with Big Dave, you’re family. That’s why becoming a bodyguard was the perfect choice.

“It was pretty easy. That didn't come hard. I've always showed love and protected people wherever I was at,” he said. “But I went to some clubs in Hollywood and eventually a guy, an artist called Immature, asked me to come and do a book signing for him, so I did. Then, they were leaving for a tour and they asked me if I wanted to go and I did, and that's what started my bodyguard career back in '96, '97.”’

Just don’t make him mad.

"Yeah. Pretty much. I am a gentle giant, but I'm very protective of the people I love and the people I work with and I think I lasted this long because I'm very smart,” he said. “I've never resorted to violence. I think my key in my success of being a bodyguard was just the way I talk, I call it verbal judo. I'm the best at deescalating situations, finding ways out without anyone getting hurt and that's what I do.”

The people at Clemson recognize the gentle giant, the caring father and husband, the celebrity who isn’t a celebrity and cares more about listening to them than he does talking about himself.

“I guess when I'm out there at Clemson, I just show love and make sure everyone ... My thing is making sure everyone's okay,” Uiagalelei said. “You may come up and be glad to meet me, but I'm more like, ‘Are you okay? Is everything all right with you? Are you having fun out here?’ That's my whole demeanor. I think that's what people love the most -- I guess just me taking care of them.”

The cameras fell in love with Big Dave’s genuine reactions when DJ made his first career start against Boston College. People noticed the big man with the big smile and a few tears, and the cameras kept panning back to the perhaps the most famous father in Clemson that day outside of Swinney.

“The funny part is this, I wasn't even trying to. It was just something that just happened,” he said. “Just people see the love that I have for all of them. When I go out there, I'm always trying to show love to everybody. I'm just being grateful and thankful and just going out there, doing all of that and then what happened in the games when the cameras were on me. I didn't ask for it. My sister was calling me during the game, and was saying, ‘Why are they showing you more than DJ?’”

It didn’t take long for Big Dave’s phone to blow up after the game.

“Man, let me tell you all my old clients, Chris Brown, DJ Khaled, all those guys, they gave me a call. Even Lil’ Wayne,” he said. “Because all my cousins and family that work as bodyguards, we all talk about DJ when he was young. Lil’ Wayne called him, my cousin and said, ‘Dude, I saw DJ, the kid you was talking about a lot. Right?’ Then, he said to tell Dave that I'm a father, too, and great job. He thought that was just something that was inspiring to see another guy, see this father out there being proud of his son and then it inspired a lot of people to reach out. I am just grateful and thankful for it.”

TAKING PICTURES

As Big Dave walked to the stadium nine days ago, his walk was interrupted by Clemson who wanted him to stop and take a picture. He didn’t care if he was late, he wants to please everyone.

“I'm not going to change. If people want a picture, then I'm going to come and take a picture,” he said. “I don't care how long it takes me to get to the stadium and I'm not going to change. I'm here for everyone else and I'm no one special at all. I'm going to just keep doing whatever I was doing, stay at the Abernathy and walk to the stadium.”

Big Dave was pulling into the Abernathy a few days before the game, and a local policeman flipped around at the red light and followed him into the parking lot.

“It was about 10:30 at night and I see the cop parked at the red light and I had the number five jersey on,” he said. “I waved at him. And then he turned back around, came in and then we talked. His name was Officer Brown and he was like, ‘I was waiting the day until I get to see you, Big Dave.’ I was like, ‘Sir, I want to say I'm pleased to meet you and thank you. Let’s talk.’

“That's how it is. I love it, man. I'm no one special. I'm just in love with a place like Clemson, just all of you. I am just in awe of it. People saw my emotions...and I've been like that from day one. There's a lot of my friends that know me, that's what they loved the most. They said, ‘Dave, you never changed since DJ was seven, eight years old. You've been that happy guy on the sideline cheering your son on, taking him to camps.’”

THE FOOTBALL PARENT

Big Dave knew early on that DJ had the chance to be special, but he didn’t coddle his oldest son. He pushed him.

“I did things that other parents wouldn't think of back then. DJ was in fourth grade, I remember, and I took him to a high school with 10th and 11th graders, but I knew what I had and I knew that was the type of parent I had to be,” he said. “I knew I had to challenge him like that because he was ahead of the curve. I knew training with other fourth and fifth graders wasn't going to help him. I was just tough like that and a lot of people thought, ‘Well, this is crazy,’ but it's not. I knew who he was going to be today. It's not something new to me. I expected all of this, but at the same time, I'm careful with that because I don't want to come off like a LaVar Ball again. I don't want to say my son is better than anyone, but I did my best to nurture that talent, and that desire of DJ wanting to the best one day.”

Clemson first came to Big Dave’s attention because of Dabo Swinney.

“Well, when I first noticed Clemson, it was Coach Swinney. That was the first thing that really struck me, because of his belief on God and the way he speaks. You can see the genuine person in him, who really just loves his players and the way he goes about talking about them,” Uiagalelei said. “That was something that caught my eye. I was like, ‘Wow. This man really loves his kids and really pushes the God agenda.’ He pushes the church, and you don't really hear coaches talk about that. Some of them, but you don't really hear how passionate they are. That's what really caught me.

“Then, I guess back when DJ was younger, he was watching Tajh Boyd and he really loved that offense and throwing bombs all over the place. Because that is what he was doing. We had a receiver that was 6'6, and DJ would just keep throwing bombs to him and that was his favorite thing to do. I think that's what caught his eye first, and then of course that game against Alabama. That championship game with the Texans quarterback, Deshaun Watson.”

Clemson’s thrilling 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide made the entire family sit up and take notice of the Paw.

“We watched it together, all of us as a family and I want to say that was a first time for me, like I could really picture my son playing at the school,” said Uiagalalei. “Right? When we all watched that game it was amazing. We all watched him (Watson) and my wife said. ‘I could see you there, DJ. It is a beautiful school.’ That's when I felt, ‘Well, I agree. I could actually see you there, DJ playing at that beautiful school.’”

Not quite four years later, Big Dave sat in the stands and watched as his son led a thrilling comeback over Boston College. It was DJ’s first career start.

“It was nerve wrecking. As a parent... For me, I'm always nervous when my son's out there even when he played at high school, even when he was in Pop Warner and I've always been nervous for him,” Uiagalelei said. “My whole thing is about, I hope my son performs good enough to make all of you guys happy. That's my whole thing. I'm not worried about him in a sense of... I know he's going to be ok... DJ is the type of guy who will make sure he trained (and) put in the work. I've never met anyone who worked so hard for something, so I never questioned that on him.

“I just always pray that he performs good for everyone else because for me, he could fail. He could struggle. I'm going to love him regardless. I'm going to support him regardless of the ups and downs. I've had talks with him about learning how to embrace failure, because failure is another saying of growing. It's another way of growing. You grow through failure, so it's not a problem with me. Just like the loss at Notre Dame.”

Clemson’s final home game against Pitt was also Military Appreciation Day, and Big Dave found another reason to love his new home.

“I enjoy going out to support other people, and what they're doing,” he said. “That thing we did with the Scroll of Honor and placing the flags? Dude, I will do that all day. Stuff like that to honor the men that... they are the reason why we're here safe and free to do what we want to do. I love stuff like that. I love to give back and to support, but I just enjoy things like that. That's what I do, to get the time to fly by or to just go and fellowship with others. I just enjoy it. I just have fun, I guess.”

Football at Memorial Stadium is over for 2020, and Big Dave plans to stay closer to home during the winter months. But don’t be surprised to see Clemson’s newest celebrity pop up back at The Abernathy. To see his son, yes. But simply to come back to the place he calls his second home.

“I will be back soon,” said Uiagalalei. And then, like most Clemson fans say, “I can’t stay away. Even if there is no football game. I just love it there.”

Comment on this story
Print   
Send Feedback to David Hood: Email | Comment
Clemson continues climb in ESPN recruiting rankings
Clemson continues climb in ESPN recruiting rankings
Former Clemson running back transferring again
Former Clemson running back transferring again
Clemson's ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent set
Clemson's ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent set
CBS Sports analyst predicts Clemson regular season wins total
CBS Sports analyst predicts Clemson regular season wins total
Post your comments!
Subject (Replies: 16) Author
spacer TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
TigerNet News
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
Oculus
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
crawdad64
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
SammyDub
spacer Ohana***
Rocky the Tiger®
spacer Definitely Clemson's BIGGEST spokesman!
CUnext
spacer Big Dave is just that. BIG! And, I don't mean fat, I mean he
76er®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
Tigerdug23®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
HowardsBoy®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
74TIGER
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
Valley Boy
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
MaukaTiger®
spacer Man, I wonder if he’s got some eligibility left
tigerpathmd®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
232press®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
mojotiger®
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
Marine4Life
spacer Re: TNET: Drawn to faith and family, Uiagalelei has become Clemson’s biggest spokesman
7173TIGER®

Sign Up for E-Mail News Alerts
Features
Breaking
Daily Digest