Tonga Elevates His Game

What a difference a day makes! The first day of practice took its toll on Matangi Tonga. He struggled with the heat and the altitude on Saturday. Things were much different on Monday for the top California defensive linemen, however. He played hard throughout practice, and he expects to improve his performance every day.

The grueling nature of BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall's pursuit drills led to a few casualties among the newcomers. Matangi Tonga found himself struggling to catch his breath in the thin Utah air during the first day of fall practice.

"Actually my first day was really hard just adjusting to the altitude and stuff," said Tonga. "Today I felt a little better just getting used to it. I got a feel of how practice is now and when to go all out and when to ease up. My first day was really hard, but today it was a little easier, so hopefully I continue to get use to this air up here because I come from sea level. Up here it's like 5,000 feet above sea level and that can really do you in if you come from sea level."

After one day, Tonga built up a little more resistance to the harsh conditions of fall practice, so he could fully pursued the goals outlined by the coaching staff.

"Today's goals were to basically fire out and make plays," said Tonga. "We set a standard on Saturday and the goal today was to exceed it. To come out more intense and more pumped up. The only problem was the offense came out more fired up today too, so we just ended up coming out even. I think we reached our goals today but we didn't surpass them. We still have some work to do. We set the bar pretty high especially for our young D-line guys, probably the oldest D-line guy is Hala [Paongo], but we have a lot of incoming freshmen and redshirt freshman. We just want to be able to just come out and play."

Being able to come out and play means meeting the high standard of play set by BYU's coaching staff. This young defensive line group knows BYU's needs on the line, and they know that they must fill that need.

"The coaches have done a good job in helping us with the pressure and with expectations," said Tonga. "They do a good job of using us within the lineups and stuff, and so the chances of a new guy going in are limited, but we just want to make sure that when one of us does get that chance that we go all out.

"Right now the D-line is trying to be great. We're still young and we're learning the ropes and stuff, but we'll get there with a lot of hard work. Under Coach Mendenhall, he's a tough coach and is working hard with the D-linemen along with our D-line coach. It's tough but we'll get there."

Tonga and the rest of the new D-linemen were the stars of their high schools, but at BYU they all quickly learned that they are no longer the big men on campus.

"In high school the average offensive linemen was at the most 280," Tonga laughed. "You come to college and you gotta go up against guys with forty more pounds. The offensive linemen here are all like 320 and everyone is like 6-4 or 6-5. Strength and speed wise everyone here is just so much more elevated in college than in high school. These guys here are going to help us all get better.

"It's awesome coming in here and playing against some of the top O-linemen. Developing under these conditions, with these talented offensive players, will make us better and more prepared than if we played in games against guys who might not be as good as the ones we go up against day in and day out."

Tonga thinks that BYU's offensive linemen are the best in the conference. He knows that if he can beat them he can beat anyone in the conference and likely the nation.

So how has his BYU football experience differed from that of high school?

"The coaches here are more intense and make you work more than in high school," said Tonga. "Here they expect perfection and perfect playing, while in high school you can get away with jogging and going through the motions. Here in college you have to spring everywhere and everything is all out, and if you don't go all out there someone right behind you just as good looking to take your place that is willing to go all out."


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