Instead, after an impact freshman season, he was dismissed from the team for honor code violations and wound up being sentenced to 90 days of electronic monitoring and three years of probation for four third-degree felonies for burglary.
Tonga wound up at San Mateo (Calif.) Junior College, and after one dominant season of 10 sacks and 17 tackles for losses, he landed at Houston, where he started at nose tackle in his only remaining season of college eligibility.
At Houston's pro day on March 28, Tonga (6-2, 290) ran 40-yard dashes of 4.72 and 4.81 seconds, put up 29 reps on the 225-pound bench press and went through defensive line drills. At the request of Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith, Tonga then did fullback drills.
"It came as a surprise to me," Tonga told Packer Report this week. "Since January, when I came back from winter break, I'd been working a lot of D-line drills and bag work and stuff like that. When they asked me to work out at fullback, I was surprised. I was shocked at what they had me doing."
Tonga was an all-state defender at Aragon High School in San Mateo, Calif., as a senior in 2005 but also rushed for 837 yards and 20 touchdowns as a fullback. He said it took him "a couple minutes" to recall those skills.
He said between six and 10 passes were thrown his way, and he even made a one-handed catch on a poorly thrown pass.
"I have decent hands," he said when jokingly asked if he had "lineman hands."
Tonga hoped the workout would get him back on NFL radars but his phone has been quiet. Most of the early legwork on prospects is complete by the end of their junior season, but since Tonga didn't play football for two seasons, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.
"Some days, it's easy to put it on the back burner, but other days, it's really hard," Tonga said of his NFL dreams. "After the pro day, I was expecting to get some attention. I've been humbling myself, so I just keep working out and training and whatever happens, happens."
At spring practice, Tonga lined up as the starting right defensive end. But with the middle of Houston's defense being a sore spot, Tonga was moved to nose tackle. He started nine games, finishing with 26 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.
Tonga said his favorite players are Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and Green Bay's B.J. Raji — who played a little fullback in the playoffs and, as Tonga quickly recalled, had a pick-six in the NFC Championship Game at Chicago.
"It's my dream to play in the NFL," he said. "It would be a dream come true to make it — even on the practice squad. To make any part of the NFL would be a dream come true. If I was able to play fullback and D-line, that would be a plus."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.