Provo • When he felt a pop in his left foot during practice a few days before BYU’s opener against Portland State last August, football star Moroni Laulu-Pututau initially figured it was no big deal. Maybe just a cramp, he thought, or perhaps just a defect in his cleats.
That was seven months ago. The receiver-turned-tight end who was supposed to be a key cog in Ty Detmer’s pro style offense in 2017 has not played a down of football since.
“There was sharp pain, but I thought it was temporary,” said the former Mountain Crest High standout. “Turns out it was way worse than anyone imagined.”
It was later diagnosed as a Lisfranc fracture, a mid-foot injury that really isn’t a fracture. One or more of the metatarsal bones in the foot is displaced from the tarsus, so it is more like a ligament tear than a break.
“I was just running a route out here on the practice field, and I just planted on my left foot and turned, and pushed off,” he said. “And here I am more than half a year later, still a spectator.”
it is the same injury that quarterback Taysom Hill suffered against Nebraska in the 2015 opener that caused him to miss the remainder of the season, and the same injury cornerback Troy Warner suffered against East Carolina last October.
Like Laulu-Pututau, Warner has yet to return to full contact in BYU’s spring practices. All three were non-contact injuries, causing some to wonder if BYU’s Nike footwear is to blame.
“Why do [BYU players] get them?’” Laulu-Pututau asked rhetorically. “Good question. I don’t know. It is a mystery. It is the curse of the Lisfranc.”
After Wednesday’s scrimmage that he watched intently from the sidelines, Laulu-Pututau said he is “very close” to returning to contact, but is taking nothing for granted because after the injury he was told it would take four weeks to heal. That became six weeks, then six months.
“I haven’t had any problems with it recently. I am getting the strength back in my foot, and mentally everything is coming back as well,” he said. “I am getting more confident in it every day. … It is just one of those injuries that you have to play by ear as far as recovery goes. Everybody recovers from these differently, the doctors say.”
A highly touted recruit who served a church mission to Antofagasta, Chile, before enrolling at BYU, Laulu-Pututau caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown from Tanner Mangum (who also served in Antofagasta, coincidentally) as a freshman in 2015. He caught 27 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, including six catches for 51 yards against UCLA as a sophomore, and was then told to add 20 pounds because he was being moved to tight end prior to the 2017 season.
He got married after being set up on a blind date by former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard, and 2017 was supposed to be his breakout season. A simple drill during practice changed everything. One positive aspect for the team was that it enabled then-freshman Matt Bushman to emerge at tight end as a blossoming star.
“It was really frustrating and I was down in the dumps for quite awhile,” Laulu-Pututau said. “So here I am. I am happy with how it worked out. Everything happens for a reason. I will eventually get totally healthy and hopefully won’t have to worry about it again.”
The Cougars will be loaded at tight end in 2018 if Laulu-Pututau gets back to full strength and promising redshirt freshman Joe Tukuafu returns from a broken thumb suffered the second week of spring camp. They also have senior JJ Nwigwe, a blocking specialist who is improving his pass-catching ability daily, according to tight ends coach Steve Clark, and American Fork walk-on Nate Heaps.
“It will be a really solid group if we can keep them healthy,” Clark said.
And avoid the curse of the Lisfranc.
BYU’S TIGHT ENDS
• Moroni Laulu-Pututau, junior
• Nate Heaps, sophomore
• Joe Tukuafu, freshman
• JJ Nwigwe, senior
• Matt Bushman, sophomore
• Tanner Leishman, sophomore
Note: Laulu-Pututau (foot) and Tukuafu (right thumb) are not participating in contact drills due to injuries.