The Senior Trifecta of 2012

Could the Cougar defensive line of 2012 go down as one of the best in recent years? One could make a strong case for that argument with the experience and physical talent that Ian Dulan, Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna bring to the table.

Romney Fuga has been a solid force at nose guard and a staple of BYU's 3-4-4 defense over the past three years. It almost seems strange to think of a Cougar nose guard without the name Fuga on the jersey.

"I'm just having a lot of fun this year," said the senior nose guard. "This is probably the best spring and the most fun I've ever had. I have to say that even though I've been here for so long, this is best time I've had since being here."

With the return of Ian Dulan on his left side, it has become a defensive line reunion of sorts for Fuga.

"I'm just having a lot of fun and I think it's because of the guys I'm playing with," Fuga said. "I've been playing with Ian [Dulan] and Eathyn [Manumaleuna] for a long time. It's our last year and we've all worked really hard for this moment. They're all great players and having one on my left and one on my right has made it a lot more fun for me this year."

"It's been great playing with Ian [Dulan] again," Manumaleuna said. "That guy is amazing and he's doing a great job this spring."

For Manumaleuna, playing alongside Fuga and Dulan also feels like a long-awaited reunion of old teammates that grew up together and have been given one more chance to play together.

"It's been great practicing with Romney and Ian again," said Eathyn Manumaleuna. "It's like old times again, you know? And we're all seniors too! It's been a lot of fun and we're all united again.

"The way I look at it is like a group of guys that have grown up together like in a Pop Warner league. That's kind of how I feel playing with Romney and Ian. We've all grown up together and it's a lot different when it's like that than when you have a new guy coming in and have to try and help him catch up. We all know our stuff now and it's just a matter of executing it."

"Yeah, it is kind of like old times," Fuga said. "Like I said, it's a lot of fun."

With the three experienced seniors on the d-line, the question is, "How is Coach Kaufusi going to help them be better this year than they were last year?"

"I don't know," Manumaleuna said with a laugh. "It gets to the point where you're taught the position and technique so well that all he needs to do is manage us and make sure we're constantly playing at that high level perfectly. "The one thing about the defensive line is, we have a lot of experience, but don't want to just ride on that," said Fuga. "We want to increase our abilities within our assignments and take it very personal when we aren't able to take it to the next level. With all of our experience, and with the abilities that each of us have, we feel we should be dominating every single down and every single day. If we aren't dominating as much, we take it personal."

The level of experience, knowledge and physical abilities of Dulan, Fuga and Manumaleuna will make this Cougar defensive line one of the best in years. The three starters have 111 games of combined experience in the trenches, and this season they'll put that practical knowledge to use for a final go.

"I think we're going to bring a very physical defensive line to the field this year," Fuga said. "This is one of the most physical defensive lines we've had in a long time. None of us are afraid to hit and we don't shy away from physical contact. No one is known for being soft and we're going to bring that physical play every down. That's what I think about this defensive line."

"I agree," said Manumaleuna. "With everything we've been through and all the coaching that we've received, being senior players that have worked as hard as we have, we expect to be one of the best if not the best defensive lines we've had here in a long time."

Yesterday was a day of the experienced d-line versus the new, less experienced o-line engaging in trench warfare. The defensive line of Dulan, Fuga and Manumaleuna really laid the wood on the offensive line, setting the tone for the others when it was their turn to see the field.

"I do see those guys getting better and better, even though we kind of caught them [yesterday]," Fuga said. "Man, they try really hard and you can see them improving and becoming more comfortable with each other. It's not a cake walk for us by any means and we have to make sure that we're doing things correct. It's been a lot of fun because it's a new challenge for us."

After the first team scrimmage, Coach Weber had seen enough. Pulling his lineman off the field, he gave a very emotional and stern lecture challenging the mettle of his o-line group.

"We want to always have that mindset and I think we all really focused on having that mindset and it showed," Fuga said. "I thought our defense played really well overall. Upfront we went in there and played very, very physical. Coach Mendenhall challenged us to be more dominating and that's what we did. I think you kind of saw what happened after that."

Spring camp's first team offensive line unit of Yeck, Stringham, Tushaus, Vaitai and Kofu have demonstrated physical nastiness over the first week of spring camp. There's no question these younger players are anxious, hungry and trying to change the cultural perception up front.

"There are some new faces up front that we've been battling against and that's a good thing because they're actually making us better on the d-line," Fuga said.

New faces with less experience making a more experienced d-line better? If that truly is the case, how so?

"Well, because the d-line, you know, we all have starting experience and we know our assignments really well," Fuga said. "It's a challenge for the o-line because they're new, but because they're new it's a challenge for us to match their level of effort.

"On top of that every offensive lineman is different and brings different abilities, attitude and playing style to their position. When you have new guys like the guys we're facing now, it makes it tough because you have make sure you're doing things right because you don't know what they're going to do. You don't know their tendencies as much and so it forces you to rely on your technique more, so that's helping us as well as helping them when it comes time for them to play."

Manumaleuna has recognized the efforts of the new offensive line group in trying to prove themselves so far in spring camp.

"They might be new and not have as much experience as say me and Romney and Ian have, but I feel like they're always trying to prove themselves more," said Manumaleuna. "Sometimes I feel like they try and do that way too much and take it to a different level. It's tough because they try and do whatever it takes and that can be a good thing but it can also be a bad thing as well. You can definitely tell they're really hungry but sometimes they go overboard. Sometimes when they get beat they take it very hard on themselves and get down. It happens to the best of us as you start to transition in."

Should Cougar fans expect the dynamic trifecta of Dulan, Fuga and Manumaleuna to cause a lot of frustration and headaches for opposing offensive lineman and their coaches throughout the 2012 season?

"Well, we plan on it," Fuga said with a smile. "That's the plan."

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