Tonga Greeted Into NFL By Former Cougars

When former Cougar fullback Manase Tonga was still playing football at BYU, he had a desire to try his hand at the next level. Having signed a free-agent contract with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Tonga went back home to California to be a part of the silver and black training camp. It was then that he was greeted by two former Cougar teammates.

The nerves, the excitement and unpleasantness of the unknown, all bundled up into a swirl of emotions, can be expected by a player stepping away from the comforts of the college level and into the highest and most demanding field of play at the NFL level.

So when former Cougar fullback Manase Tonga first walked out onto the Oakland Raiders' practice field as a free agent to test his skills in front of veteran players and NFL coaches at their mini camp, he received a pleasant surprise that helped eased the transition a little.

"There are two BYU guys out here in Oakland," said Tonga. "There's Todd Watkins and David Nixon here with the Raiders. When I first reported to the Raiders mini camp, David was the first one I ran into out there. It was just good to see him and have someone I knew from BYU out there with me."

Nixon's greeting was certainly an unusual one for a football training camp.

"He kind of snuck up on me a little bit there at the mini camp," Tonga said with a slight laugh in his voice. "He greeted me with a big welcome hug and it kind of caught me off guard a little bit. It was good to see him out there though that first day of training camp and we talked for a bit. It was good."

After starting at outside linebacker for the Cougars for several years, Nixon graduated from BYU after the 2008 season. It was then that he signed as a free agent with the Raiders.

"He's doing good out here," Tonga said. "He's been on the roster for a year now and has been giving me some personal advice about making it."

And just what was that advice?

"He said I should try and get on special teams and try to make the team that way," Tonga said. "He said to keep working hard and don't give them a reason to cut you. He was on the roster last season and did pretty good, so he has some experience at this level and said special teams is the way to go. He said for me to come in and just be a dominant blocker, and that's pretty much what they're looking for. I'm just trying to work hard and get that spot, and we'll see where it goes from there."

As was mentioned, Tonga was also greeted by former Cougar receiver Todd Watkins. Watkins was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, but joined the Raiders in 2008.

"We knew each other really well when he played at BYU," Tonga said. "He played on the team my freshman year and that's how I know him, so it was good to see him out there and talk to him for a while.

"When I was out there for the mini camp two weeks ago, I stayed pretty close to Todd and David. They've been helping me out a lot and it's good having them there. Todd said that whenever BYU is playing another college team that one of the guys on the Raiders played on, he told me that they will get together and watch the game together and make a little side bet. He said he always bets on BYU."

Watkins has been out to BYU's alumni day over the past few years, and visited BYU this past spring to watch the team practice.

"He talks a lot about going back to Provo and visiting BYU," Tonga said. "He definitely has been keeping tabs on BYU and, like I said, will catch a game from time to time during a bye week or when he can, and that's a good thing."

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