Provo • Mafa Tanielu took one look at her newborn son 24 years ago and decided he was the most handsome boy she had ever seen.
So she named him that — Handsome Tanielu. He’s now a 6-foot-2, 315-pound senior defensive tackle on the BYU football team.
“That’s the story behind my name. That’s it. She loved me a lot. I get my looks from my mom, for sure. My dad is an ugly looking dude — nah, I’m just playing,” Tanielu said with a laugh last week.
After a mildly disappointing junior season in which he battled a torn ligament in his elbow that kept him from fully extending his right arm, Tanielu is determined to shine in his final year in Provo.
“Technically, if I was a normal junior who hadn’t gone on a mission [to Charlotte, N.C.], I would have redshirted,” he said. “But I am older, so I had to play. It was just one of those things.”
Seniors Kesni Tausinga and Tanielu and juniors Tevita Mo’Unga and Solomone Wolgramm have been getting the most reps at the defensive tackle and nose tackle spots in camp. Defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki said he will use those four and probably one other player in the inside defensive tackle rotation.
Presumably, the fifth will be junior Merrill “Meti” Taliauli, a starter for seven games last season before suffering a knee injury against Mississippi State. Taliauli hasn’t done much in camp, but Tuiaki said he’s mostly recovered from the injury and is being held out because coaches know what he can do.
Newcomer Lorenzo Fauatea, a freshman from Hunter High, has also been impressive.
“Our first two strings, we are all practically starters, but right now I am in that [starting] spot and I am planning on keeping it,” Tanielu said.
Offensive line depth
Coach Kalani Sitake said the Cougars aren’t rebuilding their offensive line — four starters are back from 2016 — but they are thinking about getting younger players in the rotation.
“Whoever can play will play,” he said. “That’s how it is. Obviously, the best will start.”
In the last team portion of Tuesday’s practice, nearly 15 offensive linemen saw playing time.
Fourth-year starter and team captain Tejan Koroma is the obvious starter at center; Thomas Shoaf will start at left tackle and Keyan Norman at left guard. Senior Tuni Kanuch is the returner at right guard, so the biggest battle is between redshirt freshman Kieffer Longson and junior Austin Hoyt at right tackle.
“If the second player can come in and do better than the first player when he is tired, we are going to do that,” Sitake said. “Some guys say they just want to warm up. There is no such thing as warming up. We gotta get going from the first play.”
Langi having his moments
Motekiai “Mo” Langi, the 410-pound returned missionary from Tonga who was signed in 2015 by Bronco Mendenhall without having played organized football, is getting better every day at defensive tackle. He made a big play in camp the other day by stopping running back Kavika Fonua in his tracks with one arm. He was held out Tuesday.
“When Mo wants to go, he usually goes wherever he wants to go,” Sitake said. “The goal is to try to teach him to do that every time.”