Coaches Won't Keep Afutiti off the Field

BYU's defensive line was already cocked and loaded with high caliber talent prior to this year's incoming recruits. With an abundance of talent put through the rigors of competition through fall camp, the defensive line could see some new faces playing in the trenches this upcoming season.

Back in 2007, BYU was in the market for a few top quality defensive tackles. Some notable recruits included Simi Kuli (Oregon State), Magnum Mauga (USU), Christian Tupou (USC) and Eathyn Manumaleuna (BYU). But, it was JUCO All-American Bernard Afutiti who passed up the Trojans of USC to become a Cougar.

"When me and my wife and son took a trip up here it was the best thing we've ever done," Afutiti said. "We chose to take BYU's trip first. The trip came during our bye week when I was playing at Mt. San Antonio College. The whole trip was great. The players, the atmosphere and everything was great. It just clicked for me and I feel it was just meant to be. I'm glad I made that choice to come to BYU."

On Monday, Coach Mendenhall stated to the media that Afutiti will play this season despite missing half of fall camp. When looking at the circumstances, Afutiti's accomplishments are quite remarkable.

"The biggest adjustment from coming to the J.C. ranks is mentality," said Afutiti. "In order to make it here at BYU, you have to have the right mentality and mindset. You have to really push yourself in order to be successful here.

"At the J.C. level you didn't see me do anything special. I was always the guy that left practice early and milked it because I could. Here [at BYU] you can't do that. Now I'm the guy trying to always get in there and do extra things and make a greater effort. If you don't, you're not going to last here."

Afutiti said he has not reached his full potential, at least not yet. Although the 6-foot, 265-pound rushing defensive end has come in and forced coaches to take notice of his play, putting pressure on Ian Dulan to step up his game, Afutiti said he has a ways to go despite receiving praise from BYU coaches.

"I'm not on the level that I wish I was or I know that I can be," he said. "I know I will soon though, and then we'll see what will happen when that day gets here."

Afutiti credits his development to the competition he faces during practice.

"That's what I love the most," said Afutiti regarding the talent he goes up against daily. "When I come to practice I expect to go up against the best, and I don't get anything less than that here. I give it up to the o-line boys because they're top of the line. Everything you hear about them is true, so I look forward to coming to practice every single day because I know I'll get better and better facing those guys day in and day out."

Coach Kaufusi has also sung Afutiti's praises, but the Cougar assistant coach has also laid it all out on the line with him as well.

"Coach Kaufusi puts it all out on the line," Afutiti stated. "He doesn't sugarcoat anything and tells me straight out. He's also told me that he loves my mentality and my engine. The only thing is I need to get more into the playbook, o-line schemes, where I'm supposed to be and when I'm supposed to be there. For me, it's all a matter of time before I get all that stuff down though."

Afutiti is confident that he'll be called upon more and more.

"I'm not going to say anything, but all I know is when I get those things down you're going to see me getting more playing time," Afutiti said. "When I get down where I'm supposed to be and when I'm supposed to be there, you'll be seeing me getting a lot more playing time."

That kind of talk is music to the Cougars' ears. Long gone are the days when BYU coaches started true freshmen that were learning the ropes at the Division I level. Afutiti's play during practice has placed him right in the thick of competing for a starting job.

"I'm with the second team right now," said Afutiti. "It was hard though because I started out with the fours and was trying to get a feel for things. There are no gimmies here and you have to work hard to make your spot. Where I'm at now is from hard work and effort. I plan on putting a lot more in to continue rising to the top."

Right now, Afutiti is competing at the same position as Ian Dulan. The competition is fierce and very competitive, with Dulan heading into his junior year as a two-year starter. Yet, Afutiti is taking notes and learning from his peers in order to make that push.

"I've learned a lot from Jan [Jorgensen] and Ian," said Afutiti. "It's really different because I'm usually the one that gives advice and [is] mentoring the younger guys. Now it's a reversal of roles here and it's going to take some time getting used to, but I like it. We have some really good role models here. Russell Tialavea is a great example of that. When I first got here he was a really good friend and teammate. He made me feel welcome, [as did] Jan Jorgensen. He's also a really good role model and made me feel welcome being the All-American that he is, so I've learned a lot from these guys and the rest of the guys in the d-line group."

Baring any injury, Cougar fans can expect to see Afutiti taking his game to opponents on the field this season. His continued hard work, level of skill and constant effort has forced the hand of BYU coaches. How far he goes will be up to him.

"I plan on starting and playing on the first-team defense," said Afutiti. "That's my goal right now, and like I've said before, the best will play and the coaches make sure of that also."

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