Kaveinga growing into a force in the middle

Following a year of watching his team struggle on the field, Uona Kaveinga is ready to make an impact on the Cougar defense. His toughness, passion, discipline and instinctive nature will make him a linebacker BYU fans will love and remember for a long time.

"We want to have consistency day in and day out at every practice," said Uona Kaveinga, a student of the game. "It's our goal to win every day, and we have a point system on our defense that helps keep track of that. Every drill counts, every one-on-one drill counts, every team period counts. It's just to win and to dominate. If we're going to become a dominant defense for this season, we have to take care of spring and fall camp, and we've been consistent so far in spring ball.

"We're graded by position as a whole and it's based on effort and technique and the results are revealed by film with everything."

The players are even graded during individual drills as well.

"Everything counts, so if they catch a ball, they get a point," he said. "If we deflect it, we get a point. If they score they get seven points, and if we score we get seven points. It's a really fair system."

Over the course of last season, Kaveinga went through a personal growing period that tried his character like a refiner's fire. Sitting out due to the NCAA transfer rules, Kaveinga learned a lot about himself.

"My redshirt year, I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said. "Coach Kelly Poppinga went through the same experience that I went through. He came to me and counseled me and mentored me about how it was going to be – it was going to be a long, tough year. There were times when I got antsy and frustrated last year.

"It was a growing period for me. I had to learn a lot of humility over that time. My competitive spirit really came out because I really wanted to help my team out because we were struggling. I grew so much as a person because it taught me to be patient and humble. I had to sit out every Saturday and watch our defense struggle out there on the field, but I wouldn't trade it for nothing because of how it helped me grow as a person. It was a good learning experience for me."

Kaveinga has received compliments from the Cougar coaching staff because of his instinctive ability to see things that coaches sometimes miss. There is a reason behind this. Although he's a tough Tongan linebacker upholding that reputation in the middle, there is one quirk about him that many don't know: he's a nerd.

"I mean, I love playing football and loving the sport and being around it a lot. I'll just watch football for fun on TV and will study film for fun. You know, I play middle linebacker and have to be tough and a hard hitter and all that, but really I'm a nerd. I'll admit that I'm a football nerd and every year I've been playing football I've picked up something new. It's like a sixth sense for me and I can see things before it happens. I think that's what the coaches mean."

While admitting he is a football nerd, Kaveinga did reclaim his masculinity by saying it is purely out of love for the game.

"I would rather be in the film room with some coach studying film or with a player than, well, I'm not homosexual or anything like that, but I would rather do that than go on a date," stated Kaveinga with a laugh. "I mean, if I'm going to go on a date, it has to be the best date in the world, but other than that I would rather study film with the coaches and with my teammates."

In all seriousness, Kaveinga knows the game and knows it well. Even a few of his teammates, in a recent Daily Herald article by Darnell Dickson, said he is the person on the team most likely to be a coach someday.

"Man, I don't know, I think I'm too young to be thinking of stuff like that," Kaveinga said with a laugh. "I'm still trying to ball. I'm just trying to ball out right now and coaching just seems weird to me. It is interesting though to think about."

What about coming back to BYU as a grad assistant or coach following a stint in the NFL?

"If when everything is over and done with and I get the opportunity to coach, that would be great," Kaveinga said. "I would love to come back here to do that. I would. I wouldn't even think twice about it, I would come back."

Kaveinga is a tactician and credits his demand for exactness, effort and living by the rules to his father Lau Kaveinga. It's an example he's seen in his head coach and why he and Coach Mendenhall have such a close relationship.

"Coach Mendenhall is a tough, hardnosed dude," Kaveinga said with a smile. "He reminds me a lot of my father. He and my father have a lot of things in common. They're very demanding, very straightforward and very blunt. It's about getting to the point and everything is by the book. Rules are rules, and if you break them you suffer the consequences.

Meanwhile, Kaveinga credits his passion, love and dedication to his mother Velanika Kaveinga.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my parents for raising me up in the gospel, especially my mom," Kaveinga said. "She's not as straightforward and strict like my dad, but she's very loving, dedicated and caring. I've had that mix in my life. My dad is very strict and straightforward and I have to thank him for that, and my mom is very dedicated and loving. A lot of those characteristics of my mom and dad's personality have rubbed off on me, and you see both sides of that come out on the football field."

Football is something Kaveinga takes very seriously. Standing near the sidelines, one can see the amount of seriousness flowing out in everything he does.

"Other than the gospel, I have to say that football is one of the only things in life that I really get emotional about," Kaveinga said. "I think I'm emotional out on the field because of my love of the game, and that's why you see me getting emotional out on the field. It's just something I really care about."

Even more so than dates?

"Even more so than dates. I can't lie about that."

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