Provo • The first time BYU’s Moroni Laulu-Pututau suffered a season-ending injury, he wasn’t sure what had just happened, and figured he would be back on the field after a day or two of rest. The second time, he knew immediately.
“It was the worst feeling in the world,” said the receiver-turned-tight end of the knee injury that caused him to miss most of the 2018 season. “I knew it was bad. I knew something was wrong. It was almost like a numb feeling. I couldn’t move it. It just felt weak. It was crazy, how much it hurt.”
It was a major knee injury — his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) were both torn — that would require full reconstruction.
It was also incredibly disheartening, considering Laulu-Pututau had missed the entire 2017 season due to a Lisfranc foot injury he suffered three days before the opener. He felt a pop in his foot while making a simple cut in practice and at first thought he would miss a practice or two. He was wrong, obviously.
The timing couldn’t have been worse with the second injury.
It happened on the third offensive play — against Washington — in BYU’s fifth game of the 2018 season, so it basically meant that Laulu-Pututau could not get the year back via the new redshirt rule that allows players to play in up to four games without losing the year of eligibility.
He said he will never forget the play.
“Washington brought a corner blitz, and the play was going away from me,” he said. “The corner hit Squally [Canada], and he stumbled into the back of my knee. He lost the ball, and I am laying there, and my ACL is torn, and the ball is laying there by me. So I just grabbed the ball and I was holding it, couldn’t grab my knee, because everyone was trying to rip the ball away from me.”
So the 2019 season will be Laulu-Pututau’s last in Provo. And yes, he plans to be ready to play, thanks to a new medical procedure performed a few weeks after the knee injury that has him healing faster than expected.
“I’m doing great,” he said after watching a spring practice last week along with other offensive stars who are missing March practices, guys such as receivers Aleva Hifo and Inoke Lotulelei, tight ends Matt Bushman and Hank Tuipulotu and quarterback Zach Wilson. “I’m still on schedule to be back for fall camp.”
The groundbreaking surgery method was designed to return athletes to the playing field 40 percent faster than traditional knee surgery methods and was developed by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. It was the first time the doctor has performed the surgery outside of Alabama and Auburn, where he is on the medical staffs of both universities.
Dr. Kirt Kimball, who is BYU’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Wallentine and Dr. Kevin Christensen were also part of the surgical team in Provo last October.
“It was my call to go with the new procedure,” Laulu-Pututau said. “I was the one who actually pushed for it to happen. Coach [Jeff] Grimes had brought it up. It got to my ears and I started looking into it. I said, ‘why not?’ There was no risk, but there was a better reward.”
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Laulu-Pututau hasn’t been fully cleared to practice, and won’t participate in Saturday’s open-to-the-public scrimmage at Provo High, but he’s already doing some light running and expects to get in heavier work this summer in player-run practices and workouts.
“It has been hard, man, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Few people can go through that type of thing and come back once. I am going to do it twice. But it is the love I have for the game that drives me on. I just told myself that I have been through it once before and I can do it again.”
Laulu-Pututau said he has a “great supporting cast,” which includes his wife, Kiralyn, BYU’s coaches, and his family.
“It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch,” he said. “But I’ve been so blessed with having these talented doctors available to perform this cutting-edge surgery. I can’t thank them enough. I’ve been in good hands this entire time.”
Laulu-Pututau said the surgical procedure is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet.
“I just call it a big blessing,” he said.
LAULU-PUTUTAU’S STAR-CROSSED BYU CAREER
2015 • Played in 12 games freshman season and caught six passes for 112 yards after returning from a church mission to Chile
2016 • Caught 27 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore
2017 • Suffered a Lisfranc foot injury three days before opener against Portland State and was forced to miss the entire season
2018 • Caught 14 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown in first four games, but suffered season-ending ACL and MCL injuries in third play of fifth game, against Washington