Sione Takitaki went from being kicked off the BYU football team after his first season in Provo to being named team captain his last. Now the Cougars’ senior linebacker is headed to the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns selected Takitaki with the 17th pick of the third round of the NFL draft Friday night, No. 80 overall. The selection completed a remarkable rise for Takitaki, who was projected as a sixth- or seventh-round pick before he shined in a couple senior all-star games and put up impressive numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Browns assistant general manager Eliot Wolf said the club was impressed by Takitaki’s off-the-field turnaround at BYU.
“He is a success story,” Wolf said in a conference call. “You talk to anyone there — they didn’t think he was going to make it his first year. He completely turned his life around.”
Added Wolf: “He is a violent tackler, and plays with a lot of versatility.”
Takitaki, 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, grew up in Fontana, Calif., and was raised by a single mother. He was involved in a fight in the BYU dormitories before his freshman season, and was only allowed to stay on the team after then-coach Bronco Mendenhall let his teammates vote on the matter.
He would be suspended three more times before his junior season, but turned his life around with the help of his wife, Alyssa, a former BYU swimmer.
“I am very excited for Sione,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake in a school news release. “He will fit perfectly with his talents in Cleveland with a really good coaching staff. Sione is a really versatile athlete and really took advantage of his experience playing three different positions for us. He will just continue to get better.”
Takitaki said he hadn’t talked to the Browns since the combine. He visited seven other franchises, and expected one of them to take him. But he was happy to go to Cleveland, despite it being one of the weaker teams in the league the past few decades.
He is the 17th BYU defender to be taken in one of the three opening rounds of the NFL draft, and 38th BYU player overall. Last year, fellow BYU linebacker Fred Warner went to the San Francisco 49ers in the third round.
Takitaki is the 15th BYU linebacker selected in the draft, joining the likes of Kyle Van Noy (second round), Rob Morris (first round) and Todd Shell (first round).
BYU has been represented in 46 of the last 50 drafts and 65 of the 84 conducted overall.
“I think I will be a steal,” he said before the draft. “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.”
Takitaki caught the attention of NFL scouts with a spectacular performance against No. 6 Wisconsin last September, an outing that earned him National Defensive Player of the Year honors. He had 19 tackles in his final college game, the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and finished his career with 237 tackles, including 32.5 tackles for loss, and also had 14.5 sacks.
He played several positions on defense for BYU, including defensive end, outside linebacker and middle linebacker. In 2018, having been moved to middle linebacker, he led the team in unassisted tackles (74), assisted tackles (44) and recorded nine tackles for loss, three sacks, four quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. He also forced a fumble.
At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Takitaki ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash and posted a 37-inch vertical leap.
BYU’s Recent NFL Draft History
2019 -- Linebacker Sione Takitaki drafted by Cleveland Browns in third round
2018 -- Linebacker Fred Warner drafted by San Francisco 49ers in third round
2017 -- Running back Jamaal Williams drafted by Green Bay Packers in fourth round
2016 -- Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi drafted by Baltimore Ravens in second round