Provo • While a throng of reporters waited for their first chance to talk to 6-foot-7, 410-pound Motekiai Langi on Tuesday at BYU’s Indoor Practice Facility, another true freshman returned missionary who also plays defensive tackle gave low-key, short, individual interviews at the other side of the building.
And that was totally fine with Khyiris Tonga, a 6-4, 340-pounder from West Valley City’s Granger High.
Strangely, Tonga will get much more playing time for the Cougars this season than Langi, who admitted that he had to go to YouTube to figure out how to put on his football pads since he never played football while growing up in Tonga.
But while the massive Langi came in with much fanfare due to his rare backstory, Khyiris Tonga was a late signee last February after initially committing to play for the University of Utah before his church mission to Wichita, Kan.
“I am just following what coach [Ilaisa] Tuiaki is telling me to do, whether it is starting or just taking reps,” said Tonga, who made one tackle in Saturday’s 20-6 win over Portland State. “Right now I am just learning and trying my best to learn from these guys. I am learning a lot from them, and it has been great.”
Tonga wasn’t with the Cougars when training camp began last July because he had to take care of some academic issues. He was a bit behind when he finally joined the team but has been a fast learner, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said.
BYU VS. NO. 13 LSU
Where • Superdome, New Orleans
When • 7:30 p.m. MDT Saturday
TV • ESPN
“All the defensive linemen are doing a really good job,” Tuiaki said. “Khyiris Tonga stands out as a guy who can be disruptive, but just a little wet behind the ears when it comes to knowing football and understanding schemes and all that stuff. So I feel comfortable with all of them right now. But having that kind of depth is really important, especially because the schedule is front-loaded with good competition early.”
That schedule turns wicked this week when BYU travels to New Orleans to take on No. 13 LSU in the Superdome. They will play Utah next week and Wisconsin the week after that.
“I am excited to play Utah,” Tonga said about the school he wanted to play for four years ago because Tuiaki and Kalani Sitake were on the staff there. “I am definitely not nervous about it. They have good men there, and so do we.”
More on Mo
Langi and Tonga were allowed to talk to reporters for the first time Tuesday because they no longer are considered “newcomers” by BYU. The school changed the rules slightly last spring to allow new players who participated in spring camp to be interviewed. Neither of the aforementioned players was back from his missions in time to participate in the spring.
Langi, who served in Arizona, said he went to Google to learn more about football, its rules and terminology.
As far as the attention goes, “It is a little bit too much,” he said, laughing.
A missing Key
Star linebacker Arden Key of LSU won’t play against the Cougars, but not due to suspension. Key still is recovering from a shoulder injury, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday. The 6-6, 265-pound junior is called by some the top defensive player in the country and is expected to go early in the first round of next April’s NFL draft. He had 12 sacks last season.
“I am guessing they are going to have a second-string guy who is probably just as close to as good as him,” BYU tight end Matt Bushman said. “We can’t be, ‘Great, this guy is out.’ It stinks that he is out, but they are going to have guys that are ready to play that are going to want to show their stuff just as bad as he wanted to.”