Young Guns Experience the Big Stage

Three BYU true freshmen played important roles in a defensive performance that held Arizona to 253 yards of total offense. Ian Dulan, Matangi Tonga, and Romney Fuga applied constant pressure on Wildcat quarterback Willie Tuitama from their defensive line positions. It was an impressive effort for three kids in their first D-I game.

Someone apparently forgot to tell 17-year-old true freshman Ian Dulan that he is not supposed to be playing this early at the collegiate level. The little known Hawaiian gave 6-foot-6, 290-pound Arizona tackle Eben Britton all he could handle. By the end of the night, Dulan drew regular double-teams, and helped BYU hold the Wildcats to just two rushing first downs and 67 total yards on the ground (54 of which came on one run).

"My first college football experience was more than I thought it would be," smiled Dulan. "With me being a freshman, coming to a different place and starting has really been kind of crazy. I was really nervous and when I first stepped out onto the field I just started thing, ‘Well, I'm here.' The crowd was really loud and the electricity was just flowing and running through me. It really got my adrenaline pumping and it was just an amazing feeling."

Along with Dulan, true freshmen Matangi Tonga and Romney Fuga also got their first D-I experience when they stepped out onto the field against the Wildcats.

"Man, I was just thinking, ‘Don't mess up, don't mess up!' when I went out there," chuckled Tonga. "After the first play I was in for I just thought to myself to just go out there and play ball, but at the same time do what you have to do. That's basically what I did."

Playing in the two deep, Tonga rotated in for Dulan and was involved in keeping that Arizona running game in check. The reality of the dame did not hit Tonga until his first rotation.

"Oh man, it was crazy," said Tonga. "I really didn't know what to expect because I hadn't seen a lot of college football games on TV and it was packed and stuff. Everyone was nervous waiting but I really didn't know what to expect. I wasn't nervous at all but when we came out and stepped onto the field and saw all the fans it kind of hit me. I just thought to myself, ‘Man, I'm finally here.' It was crazy and the butterflies went away quick. I knew that the coaches trusted in the guys out there on the field, and that I could do it as a freshman. I just wanted to go out there and do what I do best."

Rotating in for nose tackle Hala Paongo, Fuga also got his chance to test the Wildcat offensive line and came away with much the same feelings as Tonga.

"Man it's just crazy out there with all the fans cheering against you and yelling at you," said Fuga. "I mean, I was nervous a little bit, but at the same time, I was really excited too. I just tried to play my best and make a play with everyone yelling from the crowd."

While out on the field, Tonga took a look around and saw the size of the crowd that had gathered to cheer against him and his teammates.

"Man, I've never played in a game with so many people in the crowd cheering and screaming at you," said Tonga. "I think the most I've ever had at a game was around 3,000 people, but I think during this last game there were around 60,000 people or something like that. It was so loud you couldn't hear anything on the field. We couldn't hear any of the play calling on the field that's how bad it was. Our offense had troubles with the penalties because Sete couldn't hear John [Beck], so he wouldn't hike it and everyone else would move. It was really crazy being out there on the field."

Like Tonga and Fuga, the Dulan was all business for the first day he stepped onto the practice field. He admitted he was a bit nervous and homesick after leaving his family and friends thousands of miles behind. Last Saturday, however, the three freshman D-linemen showed their maturity and played like men.

"Well the first couple of plays, I was trying to get into that mold and feeling of the college D-1 excitement," said Dulan. "I was doing alright at first but then slowly as the plays and the game went on everybody started to gel and make plays. Everyday is challenging, and I just try to go out there and make plays."

"I thought I did pretty good," said Tonga. "It was my first game experience, but I think I could still do better."

"I thought I did alright," Fuga said. "I just wanted to go out there and make a play. I don't think I did too bad and feel I can do a lot better, but it was my first game, and I got some of those first game jitters out. Now I know what it's like."

Having faced BYU's offensive line during fall camp, all three have come away feeling their teammates where the better group.

"I think after going up against our offense and their offense that our number one offense is better," said Dulan. "I think our offense is going to be the best in the Mountain West Conference."

Tonga agrees with Dulan that BYU's offensive linemen are more difficult to play against than those he lined up against at Arizona.

"Man, Arizona knows what's up," said Tonga. "We left a lot of points on the field and the O-line we go up against everyday is much tougher than Arizona's. It's just that they executed when it counted and our penalties slowed us down."

"Our offensive line is much tougher," Fuga said. "Our guys where much stronger, quicker and just harder to play against overall.

"Our defense played really tough, and Coach Mendenhall was really proud of us for how we played. We just came away with a loss that we should have won and now we just have to come back out here and bring it to Tulsa."

With the season opener behind them, the freshman trio now have another first to look forward to. On Saturday, Dulan, Fuga and Tonga will make their LaVell Edwards Stadium debut.

"Yeah this is going to be my first home game and I'm excited about that," said Dulan. "Now we will have our fans cheering for us. It's going to be a different offensive scheme than we faced against Arizona so I have to have a different mind set. I just have to make plays."

All the first game nerves are gone and, with the fans on their side, BYU's true freshmen D-linemen are ready to put the Cougars into the win column.

"The fans will be cheering for us this time," said Fuga. "It's a home game now so I think the butterflies will still be there but not as much, and now I kind of know what to expect and all that. It will be fun and a good experience to be at home this time. I can't wait."

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