Mission Legs Don't Stop Tonga

For the athlete who signs at BYU and elects to serve a full time mission, a year of post-mission rehab is all but a foregone conclusion. While missionaries do bulk up spiritually, few are able to hold off the muscular atrophy that naturally results from spending days studying and teaching.

The result of the long layoff oftentimes involves a physical metamorphosis from one who filled his stomach with home cooking by ward relief society sisters into a mean junkyard dog starved for gridiron brutality. The change from missionary work to football is both physical and mental and requires time to take effect.

This year, however, the norm has been anything but normal as several players have made those old Sports Illustrated missionary critics look a little less ignorant by contributing within weeks of months of turning in their suit and nametag.

One such RM is BYU running back Manase Tonga who seemed to jump right back in where he left off as running back in San Mateo, California.

"As of right now I'm starting to feel really comfortable and I'm starting to shed off those missionary legs," Tonga said with a smile. "I'm starting to get myself back into shape. I'm starting to get back to that pre-missionary form. I'm not as light as I used to be and I'm weighing in at around 230 right now. I'm about forty pounds heavier now than I was in high school, but as far as size wise goes the coaches are telling me I'm bigger and stronger than I was in high school and that's a good thing for me. It's a plus. I don't know how fast I am but I'm fast enough to get the job done."

Special teams and linebackers Coach Paul Tidwell feels that Tonga is talented enough and in good enough physical shape that the true freshman will not redshirt this year. Tonga currently holds a starting position on special teams, and has moved up on the offensive depth chart to second string fullback behind Fahu Tahi.

"The coaches are playing me this year and I've been playing on special teams, so a redshirt is pretty much out of the question now" said Tonga. "I'm just trying to learn the offense as best I can so I can be a part of it when I'm needed. Right now I'm running right behind Fahu Tahi at the fullback spot, so I'm on the two deep right now which is kind of good. I didn't expect that so soon just coming off my mission. I just gotta keep working hard.

"The offense is coming along and I'm up to speed. I know the offense more than I expected. I wasn't expecting to know it this much but the coaches have really been hounding me to get my act together and learn this offense, so I've been progressing a lot and doing really well."

With TCU next on the schedule, BYU has been working hard to fine tune a well-balanced, attacking offense.

"I love this offense because we look to score every time we touch the ball, and what's unique about it is we pass a lot and so when teams start to cover the pass we hit them with the run," Tonga said. "We've got powerful running backs and powerful linemen that are extremely physical, and they open up holes for us so it's very balanced which so far has helped our running game get up to speed early this year. I like it a lot.

"Our offense is designed to be a high scoring offense and that's what we plan on doing. We want to try and score forty points a game and nothing's changed. We just need to execute a lot better and being masters of our position, and thanks to this past bye week that's what we were able to work on. Just being masters of our position."

Manase Tonga's younger brother, Matangi, is a 6'2", 265 pound First Team All-State prospect that BYU quarterback coach Brandon Doman is recruiting as a defensive end.

"My brother—as of right now, I try not to talk to much to him about school," said Manase. "I just want him to focus on his season because there's a lot riding on it, but as far as playing football at the next level he is very excited. If he does come to BYU it's going to be a big plus for BYU because he wants to play."

Even though he does not want to create any unwanted distractions, Manase Tonga has spoken to his younger brother about following him up to BYU and mannin man the line in Mendenhall's defense.

"Oh yeah, I [encourage him] to an extent," said Manase with a grin. "He knows the coaches really want him here and that they need him, and so right now he's just pretty much playing the field.

"He'll be up here for our TCU game this Saturday so if everything goes well we might make a good impression on him. This will be his first time coming up here. Supposedly he has a scheduled trip to come up here in January."

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