BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki eager to continue his ‘remarkable’ turnaround story as NFL draft approaches

Once-troubled star is projected to be selected in the middle to late rounds, could be only Cougar drafted in 2019

Provo • It cracks up former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki when people ask him which team he would most like to play for in the NFL as the draft approaches this week in Nashville, Tenn.

That’s because when you have been on the “remarkable journey” that Takitaki says he has been on, you can’t afford to be picky.

“I would love to play for any team that likes me,” he says.

Takitaki’s troubles at BYU and subsequent turnaround, with the help of his wife Alyssa, have been well-documented. He doesn’t shy away from talking about “that part of my story,” but is also eager to add more chapters, including the realization of a boyhood dream to play in the NFL.

Like Bronson Kaufusi was in 2016, Jamaal Williams was in 2017 and fellow linebacker Fred Warner was last year, Takitaki might be only BYU player taken in the 2019 draft, which begins Thursday with the first round, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday and concluding with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi — Bronson’s brother — is also a draft possibility, although three surgeries after the season ended kept him out of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and limited what he could do at BYU’s Pro Day. Running backs Squally Canada, Brayden El-Bakri and Matt Hadley, receiver Dylan Collie, defensive back Michael Shelton and quarterback Tanner Mangum are free-agent possibilities.

So draft weekend drama for BYU fans will center on Takitaki. In which round will he go, and to which team?

He hasn’t a clue, although the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are among the teams seemingly most interested. Takitaki said he made seven visits the last month to cities that host NFL franchises, while two clubs came to Provo for private workouts outside of Pro Day.

Last week, he spent 40 minutes talking to the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator via FaceTime and also visited the Houston Texans, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“I think I will be a steal,” Takitaki told KSL-TV. “People are expecting different things. I think I will go sooner than most people think. … Whichever team takes me, it will be a great day to get to that stage, get things going.”

That team will get one of the hardest workers in Kalani Sitake’s tenure in Provo, BYU’s head coach said.

“Sione has made himself an NFL prospect through sheer determination, heart and will,” Sitake said at BYU’s Pro Day.

Most draft projections have Takitaki going in the middle to late rounds, meaning he will likely hear his name called on Saturday. But a few have said it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Fontana, Calif., product goes as early as the third round. For instance, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had Takitaki going in the late third round in a mock draft two weeks ago.

It has been a fairly sudden rise for Takitaki, who played several different defensive positions for the Cougars, including defensive end and outside linebacker before finishing up as a middle linebacker in defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s 4-3 system.

“Takitaki was not graded by scouts entering the season, but could land in the draft’s initial 75 selections,” the website draftanalyst.com said in its list of players who “could be selected much earlier” than anyone presently expects. “He’s displayed a well-rounded game and in many ways reminds me of former BYU linebacker Fred Warner, the 70th selection of last year’s draft who is now starting for the San Francisco 49ers.”

After making 19 tackles in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — the most takedowns by any player in a 2018-19 bowl game — Takitaki finished his standout college career with 237 tackles (32.5 tackles for loss) and 14.5 sacks.

He made a solid showing in the East-West Shrine Game in mid-January, then got a last-minute invitation to the Senior Bowl. He excelled during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., and his stock continued to rise.

At the NFL scouting combine, the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds and recorded a 37-inch vertical leap.

“I just put my best foot forward at the combine,” he told ESPN 960 radio. “I did a lot better than people thought I would.”

Takitaki said he will spend the weekend at home with friends and family. He never had a favorite NFL team growing up in Southern California, although most of his relatives liked the 49ers and Oakland Raiders.

“This whole time, these last few years, I have been all about rewriting my story and finishing strong at BYU,” he said after the bowl game. “I got off to a rocky start, as everyone knows. It’s been quite the journey, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Especially not now. The next chapter could be the best one yet.


Sione Takitaki’s NFL Combine numbers:

40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds

Bench press: 24 repetitions

Vertical jump: 37.0 inches

Broad jump: 125.0 inches

Three cone drill: 7.21 seconds

20-yard shuttle: 4.28 seconds

60-yard shuttle: 11.98 seconds