BYU senior linebacker Butch Pau’u is back, smiling again, and ready to atone for ‘terrible’ junior season

Big hitter has shed a few pounds and hopes to regain the 2016 form that made him a fan favorite

BYU's Butch Pau'u tackles Fresno State's Jared Rice during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Provo • Butch Pau’u burst onto the BYU football scene in a big way in 2016, breaking tackling records and developing a reputation as the fiercest hitter on the team.

Known for flashing a broad smile after devastating hits and helping opponents to their feet after many of his tackles, Pau’u became a fan favorite as a sophomore before injuries dampened his breakout season.

Still, the middle linebacker from Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., finished with 83 tackles that season, including seven for losses. He had 19 total tackles against UCLA, the most for a BYU defender since Uani Unga had 19 in 2013 against Notre Dame.

His junior season did not go nearly as well.

“I played terribly,” the senior said at BYU Football Media Day. “It was a bad year. I put on too much weight in the offseason. It wasn’t healthy weight, either. I struggled with mobility and everything. Then I had injuries, and struggled even more.”

Although he appeared in 11 games, up from 10 in 2016, Pau’u’s production dropped considerably. He made just 74 tackles, and just three were for losses.

One of the first things BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb did when he became the new linebackers coach in the offseason was to persuade Pau’u to drop back down to 225 pounds, which was his playing weight in 2016. He had ballooned to 245.

“At his height [6-foot], that’s about as much weight as he can possibly pack on, Lamb said in June. “There are not a lot of NFL linebackers that are his height. But of those at his height, that’s about as big as they can get. He’s power packed. He’s one of the strongest players on the team. He is right where he needs to be. If anything, if his body composition is wrong, we would ask him to lose weight. But right now, he is really solid. His body fat percentage is really low. He’s done a great job this offseason.”

After “testing out” his new weight Thursday as BYU preseason camp got underway, Pau’u liked how he felt.

“Yeah, smiling Butch is back,” he said, flashing the pearly whites that were a mainstay in September of 2016. “Thank goodness. My parents gave me the longest talk a couple weeks ago about how I just wasn’t happy last year. But we are back. It is good to be back.”

Pau’u broke up with his longtime girlfriend, former BYU basketball star Kalani Purcell, in the offseason as well.

“No worries,” he said when Purcell’s good-natured critiques of his play was brought up Thursday. “We are actually not together any more. We are still good friends, though.”

Pau’u had a rather unremarkable freshman season after an LDS Church mission to Honduras, then got his chance as a sophomore in preseason camp when Harvey Langi was moved from middle linebacker to defensive end.

“What an overwhelming sense of joy,” he said at the time. “I was a BYU fan since before I was created.”

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u talks to the media after the first practice of BYU's Spring training camp Monday Feb. 27 at the Indoor Practice Facility.

The new iteration is a bit lighter, but stronger and faster. That showed Thursday as the senior glided from play to play (no hitting is allowed until the pads go on in a few days) and offered encouragement to a pair of his running mates at linebacker who played different positions last season, Sione Takitaki (defensive end) and Zayne Anderson (safety).

“I am just continuing to work with Zayne and Sione and our guys that can move and keep up with those faster receivers and running backs, and I think we are going to get there,” he said.

Anderson, who has been asked to put on some weight as he makes the transition, said Pau’u has been a tremendous help already.

“Butch has taught me some moves and some reads, and helps me keep my eyes right and stuff,” Anderson said. “With his experience at linebacker, it really helped me out as a newcomer to the position.”


2016 • Played in 10 games, made 83 tackles, including seven tackles for loss

2017 • Played in 11 games, made 74 tackles, including three tackles for loss