Manase Tonga's blocking skills and hard-hitting physical play earned him a spot on last years roster as a freshman fullback. During today's full contact scrimmage, Tonga showed a new wrinkle in his game.
With his first three touches on the day, Tonga showed why BYU's backfield is one of the most talented in the Mountain West Conference. His first run went for 15 yards started off with a little shake and bake. His second carry mimicked the first as he dipped his hips, froze an outside linebacker with the juke, and turned on the jets to run around him for a 17-yard gain.
Tonga's third run seemed destined to go no where when a cornerback stepped up in run coverage only to be bowled over with a loud "pop" as Tonga gained an extra six yards after the initial contact. The play brought cheers from those standing in attendance and showed that Tonga can still has a physical running style that can bring the hurt to opposing defenses.
On the day, Tonga carried the ball three times for 38-yards and caught a few passes out of the backfield.
"Well, first of all I think the whole offense did well," said Tonga with a smile. "Our receivers were able to take their man to the places where they needed to be which allowed me to free up in the open spaces. I had a couple of catches and a couple of big runs but nothing really special. I did surprise myself when I pulled a few jukes on the little DBs, I didn't know I had it in me. It was like reliving some of my old high school days. It felt good actually and like I said I surprised myself.
"Last year was kind of my first year getting a feel for things and doing all the dirty work, but this year I'm a lot more involved and I get to touch the ball more. So a lot of people when they see me are like, ‘Who is this guy? I've never seen him before.' I just give it up to all of my coaches who've helped me with my footwork, and just watching everybody else play like Curtis [Brown] and Fui [Vakapuna].
"Those are the guys that kind of inspire me out there, and right now Fui isn't able to step it up. I wish Fui was out there with me, but September 2nd is when we need him the most, but it felt good running the ball. With Curtis being gone, a few of us running backs have put it upon ourselves to step it to play really well without missing a step."
Tailback Harvey Unga complemented Tonga's physical play with a similar well-rounded style of his own. He watches the running style of his veteran teammates and then tries to replicate bits of what he sees.
"I'm trying to get those jukes from Curtis, Fui brings it from both ways and Manase is a pounder," said Unga. "Well, obviously today that wasn't the case seeing him making guys fall over with those moves on the defense breaking some ankles out there, but today was great for me and I'm happy to be out there.
Unga delivered one of the hardest hits on the day during a goal line stand. Unga flattened a linebacker on his way into the end zone for a three-yard scoring rush. The linebacker had to be helped off the field and was seen later with an ice pack on his shoulder. The touchdown by Unga was the only running score of the day.
"Aw man, I've got great linemen and a great fullback," said Unga about his touchdown run. "I just think I tripped harder than the two defensive guys trying to tackle me. No, it was good and I saw them coming at me at the last second and I thought, ‘Oh boy!' I just lowered my head and saw the opening and just took it in."
Although his performances on the day impressed observers, Unga is quick to compliment and point out other accomplishments by his teammates during the scrimmage.
"To be honest with you, there were a lot of good things on the day," Unga said. "Watching the secondary come in and getting excited about those guys and cheering them on. Also being able to block for Manase and watching him run was great. I got to return the favor for him by opening up some gaps."
Passing Game Highlights and Comments
The Cougar passing attack was in working order today too. Freshman wide receiver McKay Jacobson caught a 20-yard pass from John Beck for a touchdown, and tight end Daniel Coats fared well from the tight end position, hauling in five catches on the day. Mike Hague got a chance to run with the offense too.
"I'm a little inexperienced out there right now," Hague said. "It's really intense and everything is so much faster. I had my head on a swivel and you just have to really watch it or you're going to get tagged.
From the H-back position, Hague got a chance to show his speed on a short pass from quarterback John Beck. Hague caught the pass coming across the filed and then turned on the jet to get around and oncoming cornerback and safety.
"It was just me running a little shallow in front of the linebackers," said Hague. "I caught it and had a corner flying in to me and a safety flying in to me and I took one step up field and was able to turn the corner. I think I was able to pick up another 20 yards or something like that. They were crashing in on me and I knew I had to take it to the outside and was able to get around them and turn the corner. Luckily I had enough speed to get around them."
Despite his good offensive play, Hague feels there is plenty of room for self improvement.
"Meikle said I was an A- today but I don't know," said Hague. "I think I did about a C or C+ out there, even though the coaches don't grade it. There was one time when they checked to a specific play and I was a bit confused and I hesitated for a second and that can't happen. I just gotta get back into the film room."
Meikle has taken Hague under his wing to personally help the young "H" back learn the position. During today's scrimmage, Meikle walked out with Hague to help him get set within the position to know exactly where he needed to be lined up at.
"This summer when I was running "H" he was tutoring me," Hague said. "I pretty much knew all the routs but then they switched me to defense so I'm a little rusty with "H" right now. Last night I studied for about four hours with three hours watching film with Meikle and then a couple of hours in the dorm. I'm just trying to get it to where it all just comes more natural to me. I haven't really played all that much slot and it's coming to me and I'm just happy to be there."
One of the more interesting wide receiver success stories on the day, and for all of fall camp, came from a walk-on wide receiver from Payson, Utah. His name if Daniel Tervort, and he is 5-foot-11, and 200 pounds. Like Hague, Tervort is playing exceptionally well at the H receiver position. Tervort caught three passes for a total of 38 yards during the scrimmage.
"It's been kind of a miracle story up to this point," said an excited Trevort. "I came to BYU as a walk-on transfer from Southern Utah after my mission. I got an offer to come walk-on at BYU so I took it because I bleed blue and I wanted to be here. I knew it would be a tougher route to take and had some coaches down at the U coming after me – I don't even want to talk about that school – but this is where I wanted to come. I broke my foot in the spring and so I didn't really get a chance to prove myself with many opportunities, but I worked really hard over the summer and heard that I might not have a chance to come back for fall camp.
"That was really hard on me and very disappointing because I knew the coaches haven't really seen what I could do. It was kind of understandable because I was a walk-on and a guy that hadn't really shown anything. I just decided then that I was going to dedicate everything I have towards it. I just spent a lot of time perfecting my routs, my bench went up working out with Coach Omer and I made some amazing progress.
Following some recommendations from the BYU football leadership council, Tervort got a call from BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
"I guess I got some really good help from the leadership council to get on with the team in fall camp, and that was a big a blessing as any when I got that call from Coach Mendenhall. He just told me congratulations and that I deserved it after working hard in the off-season to prove that I deserved to be on the team. I just told him thank you and that I would give it all I had for him for the next four years.
"Now with a couple of guys getting hurt I had the chance to prove it. I really have the confidence that I have the talent to play here which is why I came here. There are a lot of special guys playing in front of me but I just want to prove that I can play also when ever I'm given the chance. I'm just trying to make a name for myself to have the chance to get on the field. I'm a freshman and I know if I can continue to work hard I'll have the chance."