Provo • One summer night, Michelle Kaufusi arrived home and could barely make it inside her front door. She was forced to maneuver around over 20 pairs of shoes and sandals, bunched up into a mound on the porch. Yes, she says, looking back more than a decade later, it really was that full. This is how it was every summer, for a couple of weeks, when as many as two dozen cousins descended on the Kaufusi home in Provo.
If you were a boy among the 47 grandchildren, you went to Steve and Michelle’s house every summer. That’s just the way it was. For these weeks, they required a game plan, a course of action to keep all the cousins busy and active and out and about. There were cots all over the basement for sleeping, dirty clothes funneled in and out of the laundry room daily, and a priority was making certain they were stocked up on Cocoa Puffs, a Kaufusi necessity.
“It was like running a hotel,” says Michelle, now the Mayor of Provo. “It was hilarious.”
Somewhere in the mix of those dozens were four cousins, who didn’t know it at the time, and never actually talked about it back then, but they’d eventually help push forth a family legacy all together, all on the same team, doing something that’s never before been done. There’s Corbin and Devin, they’re two of Steve and Michelle’s sons, and there’s Isaiah and Jackson, sons of Jeff and Brooke Kaufusi.
Back then, they were just like everyone else: wanting to play video games, munch on Cocoa Puffs, play rugby with their cousins, stay out late playing night games until 2 a.m. Football was always a part of their destiny. It’s in their blood. Six Kaufusis played college football and 11 of their kids have since followed suit. The last name is synonymous with the sport in Utah.
“We’re very, very competitive,” Jackson said. “Very.”
So the older they got, the annual summer shindig in Provo was planned around BYU’s youth summer football camps, because logistically, it made sense. As time wore on, as Corbin and Devin were locks for BYU to follow in their dad’s footsteps, the potential of four Kaufusis playing together increased when Isaiah committed to BYU out of Brighton High. His younger brother Jackson later followed suit.
Now they’re all back in Provo, together again, doing something that’s never been done in a football-centric family.
UTAH STATE AT BYU
When • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Devin Kaufusi, a 6-foot-7, 255-pound freshman defensive end, traded correspondence with Jackson Kaufusi, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound freshman linebacker, while the two were serving their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Devin was in the German Alps, Jackson another world away in Melbourne, Australia.
Even on their missions, it hit them. They’d be joining older brothers for one year as a whole.
“We’re all actually going to be there,” Devin remembers writing Jackson.
Never before had four Kaufusis played on a team at the same time until now. And they’re ensuring that they don’t regret a single minute. Because this is the only year it’ll happen again for a while, maybe ever. Corbin, a 6-foot-9, 275-pound defensive end, is a senior. This is his last ride in Provo. Isaiah, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore linebacker, said he’s already had his share of those “weird sentimental moments” just five games into BYU’s 3-2 start.
When BYU knocked off No. 6 Wisconsin at Camp Randall, he easily spotted his cousin on the sidelines and just felt compelled to inform him he loved him. He did the exact same when BYU lost 35-7 at No. 10 Washington last weekend.
“Next year,” Isaiah said, “it’s not going to be the same with Corbin gone.”
Isaiah, like his brother and two cousins, are appreciating the rarity of this season. He remembers hearing Jackson’s name sounded out over the speakers inside LaVell Edwards Stadium during BYU’s 30-3 win over McNeese State when Jackson made his first career tackle. Isaiah noticed that Devin was on the field with them. The next play, Isaiah made a tackle, stood up and smiled.
Because growing up, Isaiah and Jackson liked to wear red. Their dad, Jeff, played at Utah. They were die-hard Utes fans. The more time they spent with their cousins, the tighter their bond grew over the years, and it became clear that this would become a possibility one day. After he came home from his mission, Isaiah lived in the same house he’d frequent every summer, staying with Steve and Michelle.
“I’m glad it played out like this,” Isaiah said, “because growing up, I didn’t really foresee this happening.”
Such unique circumstances dawn on Corbin every day, maybe a little more than his brother or his cousins because this is the only year he gets with them. Those summers were the best of times, he said. And look, he laughs, it’s transferred over to adulthood.
“The timing was just perfect,” he said. “We’re still doing it.”
Pushing forth a legacy
In the weeks before Petelo Filitonga Kaufusi passed away, he had trouble keeping his eyes open. Instead of watching his grandsons run out onto the field together, he just asked that the volume on the TV be turned up a little louder than usual, so he could hear the play-by-play. The last game he heard was BYU’s nationally-televised upset over Wisconsin.
The Kaufusi patriarch died on September 19. During his funeral, his casket had stickers of high schools and universities his sons and grandchildren attended over the years.
Prior to BYU’s win over McNeese State, the four cousins were the honorary BYU flag-bearers. They wrote messages on their wristbands for him. They all played together that afternoon for the first time, too. They later dedicated the win to their grandfather. Petelo Kaufusi moved to the U.S. from Tonga in 1971, working at times three to four jobs to provide for his family. For 25 years, he worked as a building engineer at the Salt Lake City Temple.
“When you look back at that and you realize, ‘Wow, the things that people had to do for us to get here,’ it brings a whole lot more gratitude and appreciation for what we get to do every day,” Corbin said.
“None of this would’ve been possible without him,” Isaiah said. “He and my grandma made the sacrifice to come here. They didn’t know much about college football, but once they realized it would provide a better life and education for their children, they pushed them all. That’s why we came here, to be able to do this.”
When they were little they talked about playing college football, but never collectively, never did the math decoding who would be gone on a mission or back in time to be in the same defensive package together. They just knew that their physical gifts would continue their individual journeys.
“I think that was also the great part knowing our family,” said Devin, “there wasn’t any pressure or nudging to do something else or go somewhere else.”
“We’re just excited to show everyone what we can do and continue this legacy of football,” Jackson added.
They’re already doing it.
AT A GLANCE
The Kaufusi clan at BYU in 2018:
Corbin Kaufusi » Senior defensive end, 6-foot-9, 275 pounds: Has 24 total tackles, including four sacks so far this season.
Devin Kaufusi » Freshman defensive end, 6-foot-7, 255 pounds: Has appeared in all five games as a freshman, registered two tackles against Cal and Washington.
Isaiah Kaufusi » Sophomore linebacker, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds: Has 19 total tackles in four games played in 2018, as well as a 15-yard interception return against Cal.
Jackson Kaufusi » Freshman linebacker, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds: Has appeared in two games, registered first-career tackle against McNeese State.