When Thunder Speaks, He Lights It Up

The boom in the backfield wears number 11. He is the thunder, that deafening, cracking sound that bounces off the mountains surrounding Utah Valley. Except this thunder has taken human form and the cracks heard are the noises he makes when bouncing off hapless defenders.

BYU fans saw him run as a freshman leading the way for tailback Curtis Brown. With more confidence and a year of game experience under his belt, the 235-pound Manase Tonga is again posed to make some noise as a sophomore fullback.

"I'm starting to get into my form and starting to feel a little better," said Tonga. "I trimmed down a little more and I'm weighing in at about 230. Last year I was at 242 so I've lost some, and I feel faster and stronger now that I'm actually in a weight program doing my thing and working with the coaches.

"I'm physical. I'm not too big of a fullback, but I will never give up. I will never quit and that is one thing that Coach Mendenhall has helped me to realize. I'll give it all I've got and won't quite and that's the type of fullback that I am. I won't lay you out but I will stun you. I will have you're head ringing for a little bit."

"Manase [Tonga] is a great all around football player," said fullback Joe Semanoff. "He can catch, run, block and do all those things."

Tonga is working more on his footwork to increase his speed and lateral movement. Along with that, he is also working on his balance and polishing up on his technique.

"I'm working on my footwork right now," said Tonga. "I'm working on my balance and just the technical stuff. I believe that I'm physical enough and that I'm athletic enough to get things done. As far as being a complete back, right now I'm just working on my balance and my footwork and running precise routes and doing the little things to get better."

With the loss of fullback Fahu Tahi to graduation, Tonga feels the group of backs are a bit leaner but more "stacked" than in previous years. The group will only get stronger with spring practice and the addition of new talent in fall camp.

"I'm a fullback and Fui Vakapuna is a tailback," said Tonga. "Curtis Brown is a tailback and Ray [Hudson] and Wayne Latu are all tailbacks too. The only fullbacks on team right now are me and Joe Semanoff.

"As a running back group right now we're a lot smaller than last year but we're stacked. We have a lot of talent and a lot of potential. We've also got some running backs coming in like Mike Hague and Harvey Unga coming off his grey shirt year. We're going to be even more powerful and more talented."

Much like offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has been teaching his players to become more versatile by playing various positions in the trenches, running back's coach Lance Reynolds has also been teaching some of his more versatile players how to be just that, versatile.

"They really are ugly too," joked Tonga about the offensive line. "It's really nice having those guys in front of us. Man, we've got big Jake Kuresa, Eddie Keele, Dallas Reynolds, Travis Bright, David Oswald and Sete Aulai. All those guys just make our job so much easier by opening up the holes. These guys do a great job getting up on their man and knocking the D-line around for us guys carrying the rock. You gotta give them a lot of credit for what they do for us in the backfield."

In the Cougars' two back set, most of the touches will go to the tailback, although the fullback will get the ball as well. The fullback also figures prominently into the passing game. The fullback will earn every touch he receives because he spends most of his time getting down and dirty as a lead blocker. After a season in this system, Tonga is comfortable with his role.

"When you know the offense better it just makes you feel more comfortable as a whole because at least now we know what we're supposed to and how it works," said Tonga. "Instead of learning the plays and putting it to the test we now know what's expected and just need to execute at a higher level at our different positions. I guess you could say we're a step ahead."

Friday Practice Tidbits

During Friday's practice, the defense stepped it up a notch by throwing a bit of a wrinkle into the defensive formation. The offense was caught a bit off guard by the new look and had struggled at times to move the ball.

"First of all, my hat goes off to the defense today," said Tonga. "They really brought it today and the scheme that they had threw our offensive line off. They haven't really done anything different than we're used to seeing. What they're doing now is what we've seen all year last year. It's just a matter of us remembering what to do and us just remembering our assignments and executing.

"As far as the defensive scheme and everything, that's the great thing about Coach Mendenhall, he's always looking for ways to improve his defense and they threw in this little variation to help stop the run a little bit more effectively. Earlier on in the week, especially during Tuesday's scrimmage, it was evident they couldn't stop the run with just their basic 3-4, and so with this changeup it kind of screwed around with our O-line and their calls. It's for the best, and it helps us get used to seeing different looks and different formations instead of getting used to just one. When we're healthy and we have all of our O-linemen back it's going to be scary."

Despite the defensive performance, Tonga still brought the thunder when he rolled his way over a first team safety. When the safety tried to make the tackle, Tonga knocked him to the turf and powered his way down field.

"Man, you're like the fifth person to ask me about that play," laughed Tonga. "That's just who I am. I'm physical and I'll never quit."

Noteworthy

Today, BYU practiced in a live scrimmage with over 200 former players watching along the sidelines. In attendance was Pittsburg Steelers defensive linemen and Super Bowl Champion Chris Hoke. The trip had a dual purpose for Hoke, one, to see the scrimmage and two, to buy some land with his Super Bowl bonus.

Other notable NFL players in attendance were Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, John Tait (Chicago Bears) and Rob Morris (Indianapolis Colts). College Hall of Fame member and former BYU Head Coach LaVell Edwards was also on hand to witness today's scrimmage. Current BYU commits Scotty Ebert, Austen Jorgensen and Jordan Pendleton were among the crowed enjoying the Cougar show on the field today.


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