One day Bronco Mendenhall and his staff were reviewing prospect’s highlights to evaluate who the staff was going to recruit. The highlight film of Tomasi Laulile of Westlake High School in California came up on the list. Coach Mendenhall watched the first couple of clips and instantly felt they should recruit him to play for the BYU Cougars.
Call it intuition or having a quick eye for spotting talent, Coach Mendenhall wanted Laulile in his program. That was back in 2012. Fast forward to the present and Laulile is starting to become that player Coach Mendenhall thought he could become years ago.
“I just use my speed and I’m really fast for my size,” Laulile said. “I just want to get a good rush while keeping that quarterback in the pocket. It’s a mixture of both trying to contain while rushing the quarterback. If I can get to the quarterback then I know I can help out the cornerbacks by putting pressure on him. It’s all about speed and quickness and finding the right balance.”
Kelly Poppinga has been really impressed with the progress Laulile has made this season. In fact, Laulile has impressed the entire defensive coaching staff with his speed and quickness the past two games.
“A guy that’s really stepping up, Tomasi Laulile, has really shown well in the last two games between the Michigan game and UConn,” said Coach Poppinga. “Yeah, the guy has been super impressive. He’s another big guy that I believe can rush the passer. I believe we have five really good pass rushers.”
What has aided Laulile in his ability to better rush the quarterback from his defensive line position has been the better use of his hands. His hand fighting technique is something defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi has worked on with Laulile and it’s paying off.
“What I’ve improved on is using my hands better and staying low,” Laulile said. “You have to stay low and shoot your hands. Then I use my quickness to beat my guy to the gap. That’s what I’ve gotten better at. Last year my weakness was shooting my hands, but this year I shoot my hands really fast to where it’s helping me a lot.”
The progress of Laulile has been a pleasant surprise and he should become more involved with the defensive line rotation. His speed and quickness off the line will be put to good use against the offensive line of East Carolina, which could be one of the faster lines the Cougars have faced so far this season.
“Their offensive line is fast and that’s one thing that I noticed about them,” Laulile said. “That’s one thing that really stuck out to me is they’re fast. In fact, coach told us that their offensive line is faster than UCLA, so we’re just going to have to come and be ready. This will help us to see the progress we’ve made since we’ve played UCLA. This will show us if we’ve improved or not, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
Growing up Southern California, Laulile was suited more for the rough and tumble life of the Sunshine state. Coming from that environment to Provo, Laulile wasn’t sure he would survive at BYU, despite the fact he was LDS.
“The first couple of years I wasn’t really used to everything,” Laulile said. “Coach Kaufusi is a really good coach and he’s teaching me a lot of things, so this year I’m just coming out here and starting out faster this year. It’s been really good and he’s helping me a lot.”
Enduring the culture of Provo and the aberrant environment of that in which he was used to growing up in, Laulile began to change from the influences that surrounded around him. Over time his rough edges became a little softer.
“It’s been really good,” Laulile said. “The one thing that sticks out to me is everybody is really nice here. I walk around here and everybody says hi. Back home in California nobody cares about you or will help you. Now, if I see somebody who needs help I’ll help them. If someone drops something I’ll bend over and pick it up for them. In the past I would just walk by and not even care. I think BYU has helped me to become a better person. It’s a lot different here.”
His personal transformation hasn’t stopped there. During his time at BYU, Laulile has become reacquainted with his LDS roots. So much that his faith has grown and personal disposition has changed. His outlook on life and what’s most important has taken hold within him.
When asked what’s been the highlight of his time at BYU, Laulile didn’t mention the win on the road against Nebraska, or Texas, or beating Boise State two times over the past three years. In fact, in it came to his cherished BYU experiences he didn’t even mention football at all.
“I would say the firesides,” Laulile said. “It feels good and I feel better. Growing up in California, I was never really a big church person in the past. Now, I really love going to the firesides before the games. I feel different. I feel better and it’s changing me. Every year I feel like I’m coming up, coming up, and coming up to being that man that I’m supposed to be. It’s changing me by being here. I’m a much different person and that’s a good thing for me.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Now in his junior season, Laulile attributes his rise a football player to that of being a more spiritual man. He feels his progress on the field is due to him becoming a more complete man.
“I feel like me becoming that more spiritual man has helped me in all aspects of my life,” Laulile said. “It’s helped me to understand what I have here. It’s helped me to focus more on what’s most important in life and set goals to attain those things. It’s helped me on the field with football. I just feel better. Everything has just clicked! Everything has just come together better for me because I’ve changed who I am. Yeah, I’m happier and look forward being better in every way possible, both on the field and off.”