Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — A year ago at this time it wasn't a sure thing that Romney Fuga would be manning the middle of the Cougar defense. Following a brutal cheap shot last season during the Nevada game, Fuga tore his ACL and remained on the sidelines for the better part of the year.
He remained there for 10 straight months, undergoing the arduous rehab involved with an ACL injury. The first live reps he took were during the preseason fall practice session, which gave him some good confidence heading into the season.
The actual season and regular game play, however, are the true test for any player recovering from any form of major surgery. Fuga readily admits to being somewhat anxious for that first game back.
"I thought about it some, but when you start playing, it goes away some," he said. "I can still feel the effects of the surgery, but I think it's going away bit by bit and hopefully that continues."
Fuga mans the middle of the Cougar's base 3-4 defensive alignment.
Throughout the year he's provided the most minutes at the physically-taxing nose tackle position with the ACL remaining intact and strong.
Given the nature of BYU's defensive system, fans haven't heard Fuga's name called much during games or the names of many other defensive linemen, for that matter. Their job is to take up blocks, demand double teams, and then allow the linebackers and safeties to make the plays.
It's a role Fuga is fine with, given his quiet and unassuming nature.
"Romney is very good at just going about his business and has done what we've asked of him well," said defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. "He's not one of those guys that talks a lot or stuff like that. He just goes about his business."
Fuga has been going about his business, playing a regular role in the middle of the Cougar defensive front since his freshman year. Given his experience, he's looked at as a leader by his teammates.
"He's the type of guy that leads by example," said Kaufusi. "He doesn't tell guys what to do, he just goes about his business and shows guys by his example which is what I like about him as a player."
While Fuga is the center of the defensive line, he's hardly alone in accounting for their success. He's joined with players such as Eathyn Manumaleuna and Hebron Fangupo in providing good and solid play throughout the year.
"Eathyn came in and started right away like I did," noted Fuga. "He's a lot like me in that he doesn't talk much, and just plays. He's made some huge plays for us and we're good friends."
Any words lost from the mouths of Fuga and Manumaleuna are taken up by Fangupo, however.
"Loni (Fangupo) is crazy and he's a lot of fun to play with," said Fuga. "He has a lot of fun out there and it makes it fun for all of us. He's always talking and it's good, and he's doing a great job this year."
Other contributors to the defensive front include Graham Rowley, Matt Putnam, Jordan Richardson and Simonte Vea. Together they've formed a very adequate rotation, helping limit what opponents can do offensively.
Next season, Fuga will be back, having been granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"I'm very excited for that and to play another year is great," he said. "It's definitely a good feeling because I feel that I'll be even stronger with my injury, and it's just nice to play again. I love this program and representing BYU and I get to do it another year — so it's great and something that I'm very excited for. We want to finish this season strong and really build some good momentum into next year because we'll have some good players coming back."
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