"Well, last year I struggled a bit with my weight and with learning the defensive system," said Hola. "This is my last year and I don't want to leave anything on the table. Coming into fall camp I came in at 305 and that's coming from 335 last January. Losing the weight has really helped me with pursuits and running from sideline to sideline, so the two biggest factors for me have been dropping the weight and knowing the defensive system better. It's really helped me a lot."
A quicker middle in the d-line will bode well for the Cougars, especially when they have three guys in a rotating fashion that can continue to apply the speed over a longer period of time. Known for his strength, Hola feels he now has greater footwork to accompany his strength and that makes things tough for offensive linemen.
"When you lost the weight you're obviously much quicker off the line and from side to side," said Hola. "I think we have more speed and quickness on the d-line. When you're lighter it helps you with your footwork. I think that's one thing that has helped me be a more effective d-tackle."
"As a lineman, you definitely have to change up your style and mentality when you go up against three different lineman," said R.J. Willing. "With Russ [Tialavea] you're more focused on your technique and moving your feet. With Tevita you focus more on getting low and taking care of the power. Tevita is really strong, especially in the run game. You lock up on him and you're pushing but he just sits there."
Willing said he relishes the diverse training he receives when facing the various styles and strengths of the different nose guards.
"I'm able to learn a lot from being able to play against three different types of players," said Willing. "If I ever come up against a guy, say like someone from Oklahoma and going up against one of the best d-lines in the country, it's going to be a combination of Tevita and Russell [Tialavea]. So it's nice to have those different aspects to help you get ready for what might be coming."
So the diverse playing styles of the defensive linemen has help to hone the skills of those across from them, and news of that is great, but let's get back to the transformation of Tevita Hola.
Hola's new physical abilities and better grasp of playing within the defense have created a sort of positive domino effect. The new shot of confidence Hola has gained has allowed him to play more relaxed, have more fun and just play the game without hesitation.
"When you get to that stage you stop thinking about the little things because everything comes natural for you," said Hola with a chuckle. "You stop thinking about your breathing and what has to be done. You just play the game with a more natural setting and that always makes you a better player."
He has been receiving instruction from Coach Kaufusi since entering BYU's program, but Hola is now being aided by the fact that Coach Mendenhall has stepped in and is helping teach and improve the nose guards. The extra coaching from BYU's head coach has really given those manning the position a different perspective.
"You still have to prove to the coaches that you are giving it your all and that you can make plays," Hola said. "With Coach Mendenhall having switched to the nose guards, that has really changed everyone's mind about the definition of work and what it means to work. Just working with him and learning from him and seeing his knowledge of the d-line, I had no idea. Just from his knowledge and us being able to apply it to our practices has really helped a lot along with losing all the weight and everything."