PROVO — Throughout spring practices, reporters have asked coach Bronco Mendenhall which players have impressed him with their play. One name that he often, if not always, mentions is Manoa Pikula, who has been competing at inside linebacker.
While Pikula hasn’t taken ready note of Mendenhall’s mentions of him, his family has.
“Yeah, they call me every time my name is mentioned anywhere — all excited and all that,” said Pikula. “Even though I don’t read it or look for it, my family makes sure I never miss anytime he mentions me. It’s a good thing, I guess. I try not to think about it much because I still have a long way to go.”
Pikula is a 6-1, 239 inside linebacker from Bingham High School. He joined BYU with fellow Miners Moses Kaumatule, Baker Pritchard and Kesni Tausinga back in 2011 upon completion of one of the most dominating team runs in Utah prep football history.
Pikula helped lead Bingham to 5A state championships in 2009 and again in 2010, playing both sides of the ball at linebacker and at fullback. BYU recognized his ability quite early in the recruiting process, offering and then committing Pikula in September of 2009.
Having played a key role on his varsity team since his sophomore year, Pikula entered BYU’s program in used to not only playing but playing a big role. Throughout fall practices, he showed capable but had a lot going against him —namely a stacked two-deep roster consisting of Brandon Ogletree, Uona Kaveinga, Austen Jorgensen and Spencer Hadley.
“He was right there for us last year, and he’s certainly someone we thought hard about using,” said inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell. “We had a lot of guys with experience ahead of him, so we determined to redshirt him, but it wasn’t an easy decision because of how well he performed during practices.”
As one could well imagine, the decision to redshirt wasn’t an easy one for Pikula.
“I was so frustrated because I really thought I was ready to go,” recalled Pikula. “As a player you don’t think about depth charts and your future much when you’re competing. You just want to play — at least that’s how most guys are.”
Pikula did end up sitting for the entire season, but used that time to acclimate himself better to BYU’s tough academic regimen, among other things. Looking back, he’s thankful that coaches made the decision that they did.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to play much last year, and it probably would have been a waste of a year,” said Pikula. “You always think you’re ready, but now, I feel so much more capable and redshirting really helped me as a student and getting the hang of how to balance school and football. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Now that he’s used up his redshirt, there won’t be any decision whether to play him or not. The decision, however, lies in what capacity he’ll be playing, with the inside linebacker position looking even more stacked than it was last season.
With starters Ogletree and Kaveinga returning, joining with Tyler Beck and Zac Stout, who are both healthy and able to compete, and transfer Uani Unga, the inside spots look to be as deep as they’ve ever been.
“It’s tough because everyone is so good and everyone wants it as bad as I do,” said Pikula. “It’s a good competition though, and guys aren’t all eyeing you and trying to keep you down because they want the spot. That’s how I thought it would be like, but it’s completely different. Guys want everyone to succeed, and we all help and support each other. It’s a cool thing how guys are around here.”
Pikula has been competing mostly at the Buck position, which will be likely filled primarily by Ogletree this coming season. Subsequently, Pikula has been taking ready notes from the savvy senior linebacker.
“'Tree' (Ogletree) is great in how he helps you whenever you ask and all that,” said Pikula. “He knows that we all want his job, but he’s still ready to help us with anything. He’s a great leader who wants the best for the team no matter what, and that’s what we all want. We all just want to help the team as much as possible. Sure, I’d like to start, but what I really want is to help the team. I want to play and I’ll play anywhere — special teams, backing up the position — anywhere, I don’t care I just want to play.”