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Tampa Bay's 7th Round Draft Pick "Stevie T." Tu'ikolovatu Lived Out Of An SUV With His Wife While At USC Because NCAA Rules Said Providing Him With Housing Was A "Benefit"

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TAMPAHe didn’t live in a van down by the river. He lived in an SUV down by the beach.

“Not homeless, just a choice,” Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said with a smile.

Tu’ikolovatu — “Stevie T.” to Bucs players and coaches who gave up trying to pronounce his name last weekend at rookie minicamp — is a big man (340 pounds) with a bigger dream: playing in the NFL. The former run-stuffing Utah defensive tackle and USC graduate transfer was selected in the seventh round of the draft by the Bucs.

“Steve told me I think we need to move because he got a really strong impression about USC,” Kalo said. “When we get an impression, when the Heavenly Father tells us to go, we have to go.”

The problem was that until Tu’ikolovatu was officially enrolled at USC, NCAA rules prohibited the school from giving him benefits, such as housing. But he wanted to get out to Los Angeles to begin working out. So, away he went, no real plan.

He wound up sleeping in his car. For two months. His idea. Eventually, his parents delivered his mom’s 2004 brown Chevy Suburban to Los Angeles. They didn’t know their son would use it as an apartment.

“I wasn’t a hundred percent comfortable in there,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “Kind of squeezed. But I took the back chairs out and was able to fit in there a little better.”

Three weeks into his life on the road, Kalo, who had initially stayed behind in Utah to keep her job to save money, joined her husband. Double occupancy.

There was no “apart” in the Suburban. They piled blankets and pillows in the back of the SUV. They hung shower curtains inside to block the sun. They bought two small fans. They had an ice cooler and a garment bag for laundry. Home, sweet home.

The happy couple frequented the beaches and beach parking lots. Steve’s favorite was Manhattan Beach, because of the boardwalk and the grass hill he worked out on in the mornings. Kalo liked Imperial Beach. There were fire pits. They would shower at night at beach facilities. In the morning, Kalo dropped Steve off at USC and looked for work. Then came dinner.

“Steve has skills,” Kalo said. “He seriously knows how to survive. He made a barbecue grill out of foil and wood.”

“That was all material from Dollar Tree,” Stevie said.

“We’d get strips of steaks and hot dogs and cook on the beach,” Kalo said.

To be clear this is not a sob story.  I know it’s kind of being painted that way on the internet right now but we’ve seen wayyyy worse from these “NCAA-are-assholes” stories – people who were actually homeless and in really dire situations being denied basic human decency because of asinine NCAA bylaws.  Stevie T was not “homeless.”  He could have lived with family members or teammates.  And in fact this sounds kind of sweet for a couple of months.  Grilling steaks and hot dogs on the beach, popping the trunk of your home open and watching the sunset with some ice cold beers out of the cooler.  Kind of nice IMO.

But let’s not let the NCAA off the hook here.  Stevie T is a chill ass dude who didn’t want to bother anyone and didn’t mind living the semi-homeless lifestyle for a little bit on the sunny beaches of Southern Cali.  But the fact a school will let you work out and talk to coaches and teammates…but draws the line at “providing a roof over your head” as an impermissible benefit? So fucking stupid.  As always with these guys.  Guess they couldn’t find any money in the budget for that.  Rumor has it their cut of that $3 billion Pac-12 TV contract wasn’t enough for a roof and 4 walls for the future Rose Bowl MVP.