Provo • Longtime starters Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea have graduated, while Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah awaits April’s National Football League Draft, where he is expected to be one of the first 10 to 15 players selected.
In other words, BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi faces a rebuilding project this spring as he tries to replace all three starters from a vital part of the Cougars’ wildly successful 3-4 defense last fall.
“It’s back to square one, in a lot of ways,” Kaufusi said. “We will have a lot of new guys this fall. We have a lot of work to do. But we do have some guys that played some last year. We will be OK.”
Fuga, Tialavea and Ansah helped BYU finish the 2012 season ranked No. 3 in the country in total defense, but Kaufusi insists the talent is there to come close to replicating that feat, albeit against a much more difficult schedule.
At least, the three projected starters bring some experience.
After wrecking his knee in the Boise State game, senior Eathyn Manumaleuna is expected to get his year back and was actually starting in front of Ansah before the injury. Manumaleuna has been limited in camp to non-contact drills, but said he is close to being back to 100 percent.
Although he played defensive end last year, Manumaleuna could be the starting nose tackle in 2013.
“It just depends on if we find a good enough nose tackle,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “The 3-4 starts with your best player at nose, and right now Eathyn is our best player.”
Mendenhall said if the season were to start today, sophomores Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck would be the starting defensive ends.
Kaufusi, Steve’s son, has attended spring practices sporadically as he wraps up his stint with the BYU basketball team. Both Bronson Kaufusi and Peck got in 10 to 15 plays a game last year. Steve Kaufusi said he supports his son’s basketball endeavors and is happy for him, but acknowledges some trepidation.
“Obviously for me as a football coach I would like for him to just concentrate on football,” Steve Kaufusi said. “But that’s not up to me. It is up to him. It is something he’s always wanted to do, and if coach [Dave] Rose feels comfortable enough to use him, then [Bronson] will do it, and that’s what has happened.”
Peck, the former Bingham High standout, earned more and more of a role last year after returning from an LDS Church mission. He’s a bit undersized at 240 pounds, but has earned Mendenhall’s praise several times during camp and coaches obviously feel like he has a bright future.
“We take a lot of pride on the defensive line, and we want to make sure that we are not the weakest link on the team,” Peck said. “We want to do our jobs, and do our part.” opt trim
Freshman returned missionary Tuni Kanuch, juco transfer Marques Johnson and walk-ons Justin Blackmore and Logan Taele are getting reps at nose tackle in camp. Former tight end Austin Holt has made the switch to defensive end rather seamlessly, coaches say, while freshmen Michael Doman, Darin Tuttle and Theodore King are also in the mix.
The list of defensive linemen joining the team this fall includes highly touted recruit JonRyheem People of Rigby, Idaho, along with East High’s Merrill Taliauli, Tomasi Laulile of Westlake Village, Calif., and juco transfer Kalolo Utu out of Compton (Calif.) Community College.
end opt trim
Meet the new guys
BYU’s projected starting defensive line, 2013:
Remington Peck • Sophomore, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds
Eathyn Manumaleuna* • Senior, 6-2, 288
Bronson Kaufusi • Sophomore, 6-7, 270
*Has petitioned NCAA for a medical hardship to get year back.