As a senior, Tonga ran over opposing defenses at San Mateo High School so much that the school retired his football jersey. From his on-field and classroom performances, Tonga received quite a bit of attention from just about every Pac-10 college. However, many colleges turned away not wanting to wait two years while he served a full time LDS mission.
Some of his high school accomplishments include:
-Three-time first team All-League and All-County honoree
-2001 League Player of the Year
-Aragon High School team MVP and team captain
-Single game marks of 365 yards and 4 touchdowns
-County leading 1,886 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns
-Letters in basketball and track
-2000 League co-MVP in basketball
-League triple jump and long jump champion
-Honor roll member
-Polynesian Club president
-Youth Leadership Program member
"The ironic thing is BYU never recruited me," said Tonga. "I had offers from a lot of different schools. I was being looked at by pretty much the whole Pac-10: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State and all those schools. The whole thing was the mission and a lot of schools wouldn't wait for me."
The University of Utah had offered Manase Tonga a full ride scholarship, and, the idea was that the UofU would wait for him to complete a two year church mission where in he would be given a full ride scholarship upon his return. Tonga accepted but the scholarship issue at the UofU would changed for him while out in the mission field.
"To be honest with you I don't know all the details," said Tonga. "All this stuff sort of happened while I was on my mission, but what I do understand was that Utah wanted me to wait until January. I don't know what they expect me to do from now until January, but luckily enough I got an offer from BYU and they want me to start in the fall. So that was kind of a catch for me. I can't wait that long and I need to get back into it.
"What ended up happening was I went to the U for a semester when I grey shirted, and they actually bumped me up to 230 while maintaining everything; my forty, vertical and everything stayed the same I just got bigger. I feel pretty good and I'm slowly getting my feet wet."
Tonga has lost some of the bulk he gained up at the Utah while serving in Central America, but he still feels he is in great shape.
"The mission was a great learning experience," said Tonga. "It made me more mature. I think I lost a little bit of my speed but I can say I'm still in shape. I lost 35 pounds on my mission. I weight like 215 right now and I'm 6'1". In high school I ran a 4.5 but in high school I weighed 190. I was a bit smaller," he said.
"I guess they got a hold of my game film, so yeah they did give me an offer but it was sort of like they didn't force me to commit," said Manase. "It was funny how my name got across with the new coaching staff and everything. I was surprise that they even recognized me. What ended up happening was coach Doman, who is the recruiting coach in this area, came across and found my little brother and got a hold of him and looked at him as a prospect. So he was there and Coach Steve Kaufusi told coach Doman that my little brother had an older brother who was on a mission, and Steve Kaufusi recruited me when he was back at the. That's kind of how it happened."
So how does Manase feel about BYU also offering a scholarship to his younger brother Matangi?
"I personally think it would be neat to play with my brother, but I've always told him it's not my decision it's his," said Manase. "Wherever he feels more comfortable, wherever he feels he can grow, improve and fulfill his goals or the dreams he wants to accomplish, that's where he needs to go. He's awesome."
On Monday of this week, Manase came up to BYU's campus and toured the facilities, met with coaches and was able to watch the team during voluntary workouts. He was so impressed with the atmosphere, the coaches and the philosophy of Coach Mendenhall.
"I was out there Monday and I just got back last night," said Tonga. "I saw the team work out and saw how everything goes and was able to talk to a lot of the coaches. They pretty much gave me a tour around the campus. My whole trip, I was pretty much just hanging out with coach Doman and we were just hanging out the whole time. We were buddies. He's got a great personality and he's just an overall great guy."
"Aw man, it was a great trip. They showed me everything, the facilities, the team, I met the academic administrators, I talked to the coaches and everything. Oh man, those are nice facilities. The whole thing that made me want to commit was being on the campus. It's just a whole different atmosphere and coach Mendenhall is such a great guy. The whole decision wasn't based on the coaches or their impression, but rather that I bought into the approach that Mendenhall is taking going into the season. His approach is different and focuses more on the spiritual side in every thing we do and the honor code and pretty much those things we were taught and believe in."
After listening to Coach Mendenhall talk about the direction of the program and his personal philosophy about life, football and spirituality, Tonga had heard enough.
"That pretty much was what sealed the deal," he said. "It was the icing on the cake. We're here to be examples pretty much and we're going to show the world what we're all about as members of the Church and as an academic institution. I'm excited and can't wait to get going."