Provo • When BYU meets national college football power LSU in Houston in less than a month, the Cougars will roll out their usual assortment of big, beefy offensive linemen in hopes of moving the ball against one of the best defenses in the powerful Southeastern Conference. Four projected starting linemen weigh more than 300 pounds.

Then there will be projected starting left tackle Thomas Shoaf, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs less than 275 pounds. Yes, the man tasked with protecting junior quarterback Tanner Mangum’s blind side and paving the way for Squally Canada’s dives and sweeps looks more like a basketball player — he was a good one in hoops-crazy Columbus, Ind. growing up — than a road grader.

“I still need to gain quite a bit of weight,” allows Shoaf, a redshirt sophomore. “It is a struggle for me. I am at about 275 [pounds] right now. I would like to get to 285 this season and then obviously get up to 295, 300 for my junior and senior years. But I am not just trying to put on weight. I want to make sure it is good weight at the same time.”

This is not a new problem. Shoaf said he has been trying to gain weight since the Cougars signed him in 2013 out of Columbus High in Indiana, about an hour’s drive from Larry Bird’s hometown of French Lick.

“Coaches have been talking to me about it for four years,” he said last spring.

More on BYU left tackle Thomas Shoaf

• Sophomore from Columbus, Ind. was named a Freshman All-American after 2016 season

• Started nine games at right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and played in 12

• Redshirted in 2013, then served an LDS Church mission to Honolulu, Hawaii

The chief problem might be unavoidable: Shoaf’s metabolism. He’s always been lanky, he said, but never heavy. He has perfect height for a left tackle, but far-from-ideal weight. For instance, the two guys battling for the starting right tackle spot, redshirt freshman Keiffer Longson and redshirt junior Austin Hoyt, both weigh well over 300 pounds. Shoaf’s projected backup at left tackle, redshirt freshman Chandon Herring, is at 285 pounds and looking to gain more weight as well.

After redshirting in 2013, Shoaf went on a two-year LDS Church mission to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he says he ate plenty and managed to gain a few pounds.

Since returning in 2016, he is “eating everything but the kitchen sink” in Provo, but the weight just won’t come. He has worked closely with BYU’s nutritionist, downs five meals a day and swallows up protein shakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the like every chance he gets.

BYU offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf (59) blocks UCLA defensive lineman Rick Wade (90) in the second half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Provo, Utah. UCLA won 17-14. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
BYU offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf (59) blocks UCLA defensive lineman Rick Wade (90) in the second half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Provo, Utah. UCLA won 17-14. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“I was given the opportunity as the only returning tackle [to move to the left side],” Shoaf said. “It was kind of handed to me, but I am showing that I deserve it. It is a spot I think I can handle, to make sure Tanner [Mangum] can trust me.”

That’s true, even if the starting quarterback forgets to mention his name.

Asked about the depth along BYU’s offensive line the other day, Mangum called the group “a bunch of beasts” and proceeded to list seven or eight of the “big hogs” who will have a big impact in 2017.

Oddly, Mangum didn’t mention Shoaf. It wasn’t a slight — Mangum has praised Shoaf in the past and did so after the bowl game last December when the Cougars rushed for 216 yards against Wyoming. But LSU isn’t Wyoming, obviously. The nationally ranked Tigers feature one of the best pass rushers in the country, defensive end Arden Key, whose availability for LSU’s opener (BYU opens Aug. 26 against Portland State) is unclear.

Mangum forgetting about Shoaf just illustrates how much the Cougars have come to take the quiet, soft-spoken sophomore for granted, after he stepped in for an injured Ului Lapuaho last season and rescued BYU at right tackle. Lapuaho is listed at 335 pounds, for what it’s worth.

“He just goes about his business and gets the job done,” offensive line coach Mike Empey said of Shoaf in the spring, after moving the sophomore to left tackle to take the spot vacated by Andrew Eide, who graduated. Eide weighed in at around 300 at Pro Day in March.

Shoaf was named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America after the 2016 season in which he started nine games and played in 12. An ankle injury kept him out of the Boise State game.

“We are really excited about our depth,” Shoaf said, deflecting praise. “Obviously, having four starters coming back helps a lot. And we’ve got some great young guys who are stepping up and are going to do some great things for us.”

Lapuaho is still in the program and attending practices, but is still rehabbing a knee injury and won’t be available this season.

“I like Thomas at left tackle,” Empey said last spring, acknowledging that the lineman needs to get bigger, but also stronger. “Technically and experience-wise, he is my best choice for the left side right now.”

Shoaf said he played left tackle in high school, so the move to the other side wasn’t difficult.

Gaining enough weight to look the part? Now that’s another challenge.