Provo • BYU might have the largest defensive linemen that the Arizona Wildcats will face all season, new coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
“I mean, really big guys — 330 and 340 pounds inside,” Sumlin said. “Then a 6-foot-9 defensive end, 280 pounds [Corbin Kaufusi]. There are not a lot of guys in a lot of leagues that are going to have that kind of size.”
BYU’s other projected starters, besides Kaufusi, are 340-pound sophomore nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, 285-pound walk-on defensive tackle Bracken El-Bakri and 250-pound defensive end Trajan Pili.
Sumlin may also have been referring to Tonga’s backup, 310-pound senior Merrill “Meti” Taliauli or his backup, 300-pound freshman Lorenzo Fauatea.
Whatever the case, BYU’s front four is big and stout, and defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki said Tuesday it is fairly deep. He plans to rotate 10-11 players in and out of games this season.
Freshman Devin Kaufusi, the shortest of the Kaufusi brothers at 6-7, will back up his brother at outside end. Sophomore Zac Dawe and freshman Earl Tuioti-Mariner are listed as El-Bakri’s backups at tackle and sophomore Uriah Leiataua and freshman Alden Tofa are Pili’s backups at defensive end.
“We take pride in being stout and physical against the run, and we have to make sure we do that,” Tuiaki said.
The biggest surprise when the depth chart was released last Friday was El-Bakri getting the nod at tackle. The sophomore said he bulked up nearly 40 pounds in the offseason when coaches told him he needed to put on some weight and muscle mass if he wanted to get more playing time.
This is final installment in a series of stories breaking down BYU by position groups. Today: The defensive line.
El-Bakri, who’s brother Brayden is the starting fullback, said he would set his alarm for 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. some mornings and pound 2,000-calorie protein shakes before going back to bed.
“The Lord has blessed me a lot and yeah, it has just been fantastic,” Bracken El-Bakri said. “A lot of hard work has gone into it, gaining the weight and all, which they said I needed to do to be considered for the opportunity.”
Tuiaki said El-Bakri earned the starting spot because of his offseason work and his consistency.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that we trust putting into the game, but right now Bracken is one of the guys we feel is the most consistent.”
Corbin Kaufusi said El-Bakri is called “the juggernaut” by his teammates “because he is just one of those bulldog guys.” He said El-Bakri knocked four-year starting center Tejan Koroma on his butt in a a practice drill last year.
“That was the turning point where all the coaches were like, ‘oh, this guy has a little extra juice,’” Kaufusi said. “So it has fun to see him get to where he is now.”
Ironically, the 6-foot-2 Pili is a bit undersized at the end spot opposite the older Kaufusi. But Tuiaki said the junior from Las Vegas still manages to make plays.
“He’s done a really good job as well in the offseason with his strength and how he’s changed his body,” Tuiaki said. “He basically weighs the same as he did last year, but he’s thicker, he’s got more muscle mass, and he’s stronger. So he’s in there right now at the mid-245 to 250 range. He’s holding his own against 300 pound kids and a lot of it is his understanding of leverage and what he has done in the weight room.
“I have been impressed,” Tuiaki continued. “He’s done a really good job so far in our camp and he’s really reliable with all the different spots we put him in, and he’s an intelligent kid.”