KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The path that led to playing at Tennessee wasn’t the easiest for junior linebacker Daniel Bituli as he moved from the Congo to the United States when he was just three years old.
“My family was fortunate enough to get here to the states,” Bituli said. “The lifestyle as a whole was difficult. My parents didn’t know how to speak English and both went to school. My dad worked two jobs just to feed us. My mom stayed at home and took care of the kids every day. My siblings and I were really fortunate to have the parents that we have.”
When first arriving to the U.S., Bituli along with his four siblings and parents, lived in Charlotte, Tenn. They then moved to Bellevue, about 13 miles southwest of Nashville, where he attended Nashville Christian High School.
“I have been fortunate enough to meet people in my life that have made my job easier,” Bituli said. “From my coaches picking me up from practices and dropping me off. And then going to Nashville Christian, I had such a warm and loving family there with people that truly cared about me. It is really an amazing feeling.”
One of the hurdles that Bituli had to get over was learning English. He would have to take extra classes to become fluent in the new language.
“It took a good two-and-a-half years,” Bituli said. “Fortunately enough for me, I was just a young kid. But it was very difficult for my parents because they spoke Lingala. My mom actually speaks eight different languages. Her knowing all those languages and then having to learn a whole new one when they got to the states, it was really hard.”
Bituli started his journey in football at a young age in elementary school, just by playing the sport during recess with his two best friends.
“I would just run as fast and hard as I could,” Bituli said. “I would get a touchdown like every day.”
His friends started encouraging him to play football outside of recess and would invite him to practices. Eventually in fifth-grade, he attended his first football camp and his love for the game grew from there.
Bituli also competed in basketball, starting in fourth-grade and continuing into high school. He would also run track.
At Tennessee, he has become one of the top linebackers in the Southeastern Conference and is an emerging leader for the Vols’ defense this fall.
After playing as a reserve as a freshman in 2016, Bituli led Tennessee with 90 tackles as a sophomore in 2017.
Playing primarily at MIKE linebacker, he had a career-high of 23 tackles and a forced fumble against Georgia Tech in the 2017 season opener and added a pick-six at Alabama.
As a junior, Bituli has logged two starts at linebacker and contributed eight tackles against West Virginia and ETSU.
Throughout his time as a Volunteer, one of his highlights was the Virginia Tech “Battle of Bristol” game held at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 10, 2016. The Vols routed the Hokies, 45-24, in front of the largest crowds in American football history (156,990).
“It was the greatest thing I have ever seen,” Bituli said. “Just the Vol Walk was truly amazing and breathtaking.”
But for his family, seeing his hard work pay off at a collegiate level and earning an education at the same time has meant the most overall.
“It means the world to us,” Bituli said. “It really shows that hard work truly does pay off. When you have a really tight-knit family that supports you in everything you do, it just makes the job easier.”