Provo • When the first half was concluding at Coastal Carolina last weekend, Zach Wilson threw a pick on what he hoped would have been a touchdown pass. On the return, Wilson had two defenders on him — one of who continuously kept throwing the BYU quarterback to the ground and shoving Wilson down aggressively.
A game official ended up breaking up the play, but by then BYU players had taken the field and a kerfuffle ensued before both teams left to their respective locker rooms.
The first player to reach Wilson to help was senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. After the game, while getting emotional, Kaufusi said he didn’t take the field to start a fight, but just to protect his quarterback.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Kaufusi said post-game, while choking back tears. “As soon as the play was dead, I just wanted to run out there to make sure that nothing was going to happen. To kind of pull Zach away from those two guys. … I just wanted to protect Zach.”
Kaufusi’s actions resonated with BYU fans, who now will be preparing to send off the linebacker, along with 14 other seniors, on Saturday when the Cougars host San Diego State in the last home game of the season.
Of course, this year has been different than every other that has come before it. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA put a pause on athletes’ eligibility, meaning Kaufusi and the other seniors could still come back for one more year.
“I think the key, though, is for us to focus on trying to get the win and to do it for the seniors that we know for sure are leaving,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.
However, multiple different players, including Kaufusi, have said they haven’t thought about the upcoming decision. Instead, they’re focused on finishing up the 2020 season before making a choice about their futures.
“I told my wife that I was just going to focus on this season and I was going to play like it was my last,” Kaufusi said. “Really just give it my all, dedicate myself to the game, dedicate myself to the team and come the end of the season we’ll talk about it; we’ll decide.”
Even with the opportunity to come back, Kaufusi has started looking back on his five-year career at BYU.
The linebacker from Cottonwood Heights joined the Cougars back in 2016, redshirting his freshman season after coming back from serving a church mission in Tonga. Over the last few years, Kaufusi has become a staple of BYU’s defense.
So far this season, Kaufusi has recorded 66 total tackles, four sacks, an interception, three fumble recoveries, a quarterback hurry and nine pass breakups.
Earlier this week he recalled his first BYU fall camp, and how he and his wife Breanna thought about how Kaufusi would have to go through four more of those.
But now he considers himself blessed for the opportunity and the time he’s spent in Provo.
“It just seemed like so long, and I just remember thinking ‘how am I going to get through this,’” Kaufusi said. “But it’s the greatest decision I’ve ever made, aside from marrying my wife and having my kid. Being here at BYU is absolutely where I was supposed to be. The relationships that I’ve made with my teammates, with my coaches, they’ll last forever.”
SAN DIEGO STATE AT NO. 14 BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff » Saturday, 8 p.m. MT
TV » ESPN2
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.
Records » BYU 9-1; SDSU 4-3
Series » BYU leads 28-8-1
Last meeting » SDSU 13, BYU 3 (Nov. 30, 2019)
About BYU » Team is coming off a tough loss at Coastal Carolina, which caused the Cougars to slide down in the rankings (No. 18 CFP; No. 14 AP; No. 16 Coaches Poll). … Even with the loss, BYU is off to the best start under head coach Kalani Sitake. … The Cougars are looking to get their first 10-win season since 2011 against SDSU. … The Cougars are led by quarterback Zach Wilson, who’s completing 73% of his passes and averaging 11.10 yards per attempt.
About SDSU » The Aztecs are looking for their first win in Provo in 20 years. … The San Diego State defense ranks first nationally in yards allowed per play (4.05) and third in total defense (269.1). … The Azrecs have help 20 straight opponents to less than 450 yards of total offense (second-longest streak in FBS). … Saturday’s game is also the regular season finale for SDSU.