PROVO — Manoa Pikula has been champing at the bit since arriving at BYU in 2011 and is finally getting his opportunity this spring.
After spending two years as a backup, the Bingham High School product has been running with the first-team defense throughout the spring and aims to keep that spot from now until the day his eligibility runs out.
“It’s been so hard waiting behind (Brandon Ogletree) because he’s such a great player, but now I have my chance to be the guy and I’m going to do everything in my power not to give the spot up,” Pikula said. “I’ve waited too long and I’ve been too frustrated not to take full advantage of the situation I’m in now.”
Pikula is front and center of an inside linebacker group that includes a lot of potential, but not a lot of field time due to the stellar play of both Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree over the past two seasons. So far this spring, Pikula has been running with the 1s at the Buck linebacker spot with Uani Unga doing the same at the Mike linebacker position.
It’s a group that inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell has a lot of confidence in, having been part of their development over the last three seasons.
“For a while now I’ve been very confident with this group and my ability to go three-deep, and now you’re seeing these younger guys get their chance and I feel very good about their progression and their ability to replace two great players like Uona (Kaveinga) and Tree (Ogletree),” he said.
Although it’s been frustrating assuming his role as a backup over the past two seasons, Pikula is thankful for the time he’s had to develop and learn under Ogletree.
“He’s helped me so much and I just hope I can play as well as he did this season and keep improving,” Pikula said. “I’m confident, and I’ve been confident since I got here, so now it’s just working as hard as possible — harder than I’ve ever worked before to keep my spot.”
Both Pikula and Unga have put in the time and were the last players out of the weight room Monday evening after practices concluded. They’re not the only ones vying for the two starting spots, however, and are being pushed by players such as Austen Jorgensen and Tyler Beck.
Jorgensen brings a wealth of experience to the position and is back after receiving a medical hardship from the NCAA. Beck, meanwhile, has battled injury since returning home from his LDS mission, and hopes to stay healthy from here on out.
“Austen Jorgensen is very experienced and so is Tyler Beck, although he’s been hurt for a lot of the time he’s been here,” Tidwell said. “Both of those guys can play either inside position, and I feel confident that we can be just as good as we were last year if not better with the talent we have."
Adding to the depth at inside linebacker are players such as Teu Kautai and Taloai Ho Ching, who recently returned from an LDS mission.
"I like the depth we've developed at the position, and players like Ho Ching, Kautai are going to get a chance to develop, and I like their potential," Tidwell said. "Overall, I think we have better size and maybe more upside physically — we just need to get up there instinct-wise as a group because that's where Ogletree and Kaveinga were so good. If we can get there with the talent we have, then I think this could be a special group."