Five or six years ago I was sitting on the sideline of a BYU open practice on a nice August afternoon. As the team left the field and the fans shouted praises at the offense, a defensive player walked past me and stated to a teammate, "There go the fans again, only paying attention to the offense. They should be paying attention to us!"
That was the day I started to really pay attention to the defense. And you know what? He was right! Now don't get me wrong, I still love the offense. It's hard to be a Cougar fan and not love the offense. But as an increasing number of fans have learned over the past few years, it has become equally as hard to not love the defense. Then we have a season like last year with Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, and you know you have to love them both.
It is with that in mind that I choose a defensive player as the first to profile for the upcoming football season - and I'm starting with outside linebacker Alani Fua.
Fua chose BYU over programs like Arizona, Arizona State, Ohio State, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington, in part because he felt like he might fit in better at BYU. He was married with a child, and he thought that the atmosphere at BYU might be more accepting. Now, four years later, he has proven himself to be an incredible asset to the team, and may very well become a fan favorite this season.
Fua redshirted his first year at BYU, and has played in nearly every game since. According to Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News, Coach Mendenhall commented a year ago that,"Alani Fua has been, if not the brightest spot of spring, one of the brightest spots." His talent would soon be apparent to everyone else as well.
Replacing Spencer Hadley at outside linebacker when Hadley moved to the inside, Fua got a chance to showcase his ability to impact the outcome of a big game. He did it with an interception against Georgia Tech with a 51 yard touchdown return.
Then to add an exclamation point he intercepted the ball again, this time against Houston in the last minute of the game, ending any chance of a comeback.
Fua has been described by Jason Franchuk of the Daily Herald as "215 pounds of versatile fury" and by Coach Poppinga as "a super athlete" who "knows exactly what to do." VTF's James M. Taylor talks about Fua as a possible NFL draft prospect, noting his ability to make big plays in the absence of Van Noy and Sorenson.
Fua joins returning teammates Michael Alisa, Devan Bills and Sae Tautau, as well as freshman Troy Hinds who returns from his LDS mission. Add newly recruited freshman Fred Warner and Tyler Cook to the roster, and the position looks deep.
Poppinga says not to compare Fua to Van Noy- that he does some things better and some things not as well. Does he have what it takes to lead the defense and claim a place in the 2015 NFL draft? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.