BYU football: Alani Fua may be next Cougar pass rusher in line to wind up on a path to the draft
Matt Gade, Deseret News
PROVO — Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah led all NFL rookies with eight sacks in 2013, in spite of injuries that hampered his first pro season. That fact helped Yahoo Sports writer Frank Schwab to recently quip, "If Ansah stays healthy, he should put up numbers at a Pro Bowl level."
The expectations for Kyle Van Noy are piling up, even before he has a chance to suit up for his first NFL game. It's anticipated the 2014 second-round pick of the Lions will start this season as a rookie, sooner rather than later.
These two have left big shoes to fill at BYU. But Ansah and Van Noy have also forged a path of success to the pros for Cougars to follow.
Who may be the next in line to transition from a college pass rushing star in Provo to a NFL draftee full of potential?
Alani Fua, with plenty of speed and coming off a strong 2013 season, appears primed to take on the challenge. Another strong possibility is junior Bronson Kaufusi, though he would need to leave BYU a year early to be in the same draft class as Fua.
Focusing on the pros isn’t quite here yet for Fua, with his senior year on the horizon. He has the opportunity this season to fulfill a role as a teacher with Kaufusi, who is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker to replace Van Noy.
"I think (Fua) and Bronson, for definite sure, are NFL players. Those kids will play on Sunday," BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell said during the football team's media day in June. "Alani’s kind of quiet, a lead-by-example guy. He’s pretty wise; he’s not a big, vocal leader. He just tries to show it in his example. Bronson’s a little more vocal, a little more personality. It’ll be interesting to see what happens."
BYU has had four linebackers selected in the NFL draft since 2004 — that's the most from any position group for the Cougars over that span. The school has also had two defensive ends drafted during that time, meaning that half of BYU’s 12 players selected in the NFL draft the past 10 years are pass rushers.
“As a pass rusher, that is one of the most important positions in the NFL these days. Just like Jadeveon Clowney, who just got drafted No. 1, he’s a pass rusher,” Ansah said. The second-year pro also mentioned he'd talk to Fua and Kaufusi about the pros, at the request of Cougar outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga.
“Obviously you learn a lot in the NFL. There has to be that one variable that distinguishes you from the other person. That is how smart the people are. You’ve got to have that extra, know what stand a tackle is in, you’ve got to check the formation. How many receivers are on each side of the ball? It’s that little, little information that if you pay attention to, (and then) you’ll be a great player in the NFL.”
One former Cougar, someone who has plenty of experience with the rigors of NFL life, offered some sage advice for Fua and Kaufusi.
“You have to make it a year-round commitment nowadays. That’s what I did,” former linebacker Leon White said. White played eight seasons in the NFL, and he was one of three Cougar linebackers taken in the 1986 NFL draft, along with Kurt Gouveia and Cary Whittingham.
“Staying healthy is one of the most important things in the NFL; if you’re injured, you’re not going to be able to play at your best ability. To do that, you’ve got to train year-round almost. If in the offseason, that means taking a week off and getting back into training, that’s what you do. That’s the important part.”
Both Ansah and Van Noy will report to training camp soon in preparation for the 2014 season: the Lions’ rookies report on July 22, the veterans five days later. Fua and the Cougars hit the practice field at the start of August.
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