Provo • It's crazy, but true.
Last year at this time, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall and defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi found themselves answering questions about whether athletic dynamo Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah had progressed enough to earn more repetitions in preseason camp practices, maybe see the field once or twice when games began.
Now, everybody wants to know how the Cougars are going to replace Ansah, taken No. 5 overall in April's NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and slated to start at defensive end in Friday's exhibition opener against the New York Jets.
The answer is simple. His name is Bronson Kaufusi, who happens to be Steve Kaufusi's son. Last seen roughing up opponents for BYU on the basketball court, the 6-foot-7 sophomore has added 18 pounds of muscle since the hardcourt Cougars' run in the NIT and now checks in around 280.
"Bronson is back," said Mendenhall, when asked if there is a playmaker on the defensive line who can fill Ziggy's shoes. "I don't know if you have seen him in relation to what he looked like a year ago off his mission. But he looks really good. So I would anticipate that he will have a really good season."
For his part, Kaufusi says he isn't worried about duplicating what Ansah did last year when he came out of nowhere to skyrocket up NFL Draft charts after starting the season as a backup to Eathyn Manumaleuna.
"I don't really think about it too much," Bronson Kaufusi said. "I am more about doing my job, and when I do my job, the plays are made. That's how I think."
Kaufusi said he put the weight on by design, which was easy to do once he didn't have to run "miles and miles" every day during coach Dave Rose's basketball practices. He said he's not sure yet whether he will rejoin the basketball team again this coming season.
"Football is more about explosion, more about those 10- and 15-yard bursts," he said. "That change made a big difference for me."
Sophomore Remington Peck, at 6-4, 260, might not start at defensive end, but will definitely see playing time.
"Remington is the guy not many people know about," Mendenhall said. "He had a really good spring."
Then there's Manumaleuna. Mendenhall said people forget that he was starting in front of Ziggy before he suffered a season-ending patella injury against Boise State. The 6-2, 288-pound Manumaleuna is a fifth-year senior, having been given his year back by the NCAA because he played in fewer than one-third of the games in 2012 before suffering the injury.
Actually, the player the Cougars are most concerned about replacing along the defensive line is nose tackle Romney Fuga, now trying to make the Denver Broncos' roster as an undrafted free agent.
Mendenhall worried aloud about that after spring camp, saying neither juco transfer Marques Johnson nor freshman Tuni Kanuch was ready to be the starting nose tackle and that Manumaleuna might have to play there this season.
However, this week Mendenhall said Johnson put in the necessary conditioning work in the offseason and has shown he's capable. Kanuch, freshman JonRhyheem Peoples, junior college transfer Kalolo Utu and freshman Merrill "Meti" Taliauli out of East High are also pushing to get into the two-deep.
"It will be by committee, if I had to say today," Mendenhall said. "But Marques, man, he's done a really nice job."
BYU's projected defensive line contributors
Player Position Ht/Wt Year
Bronson Kaufusi End 6-7/280 Sophomore
Marques Johnson Nose tackle 6-2/305 Junior
Tuni Kanuch Nose tackle 6-3/330 Freshman
Eathyn Manumaleuna End 6-2/288 Senior
Remington Peck End 6-4/260 Sophomore