SANDY — Until earlier this year, Brighton senior Isaiah Kaufusi had never seen footage of his father Jeff playing defensive end for the University of Utah. He’d heard numerous stories, but the images of those stories were left up to the imagination.
That changed one day when Jeff Kaufusi called his son into the living room. He was channel surfing and noticed a replay of a Utah-Stanford football game from when Kaufusi played back in 1995.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen him play. He was tall, big and skinny. It was cool to watch him and see how he played. I’d never been able to envision how he played,” said Isaiah Kaufusi.
In many ways, it was similar to the way Isaiah Kaufusi plays every Friday night for Brighton High School.
“I think it’s in my blood to get after the quarterback and to make plays on the defensive side,” said Isaiah Kaufusi.
He’s been doing that with tremendous success all season from his outside linebacker position, tallying 85 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions heading into this Friday’s 5A state championship game against No. 1 Bingham.
As good as he is defensively, he’s a handful offensively too, leading the Bengals with 609 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s a go-to guy, so if kids go up and press him, he’s going to run by you. He’s a leaper. He hasn’t had too many kids who can cover him,” said Brighton coach Ryan Bullet.
There’s no way the Bengals would be where they are without Kaufusi’s tireless energy and constant positivity.
“He’s got a motor, he’s high energy and he doesn’t get tired, doesn’t get hurt,” said Bullet. “It’s his attitude, his instinct, his juice, he just has that drive in the genes.”
When it comes to football in Utah, the Kaufusi genes are basically football royalty, with the extended family leaving their mark all across the state. In fact, seven players with Kaufusi connections will be playing in the 5A and 4A state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Friday.
Isaiah Kaufusi’s younger brother, Jackson Kaufusi, also plays for Brighton, as does cousin Doug Taumoelau. Another cousin, Devin Kaufusi, starts for Timpview, while another cousin, Tangaloa Kaufusi, plays for East.
There’s another connection at East, as standout defensive lineman/tight end Joe Tukuafu is the son of Jeff Kaufusi’s uncle. Jeff also has a first cousin who play for Bingham, linebacker Vaka Vehikite.
“It’s awesome to be able to share that experience with family,” said Isaiah Kaufusi.
It’s only a matter of time until Kaufusi takes his talents to the next level like his father and numerous other cousins as well. He has offers from Utah, BYU, Utah State and Hawaii, but he’s been content to postpone the recruiting business until after the season.
“We talked as a family, and my dad said just let everything play out in front of you. ‘This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity that you have, so just take advantage and lay low and let everything pan out in front of you,’ ” said Isaiah Kaufusi.
This week, though, college football is the last thing on his mind. Kaufusi’s focused on trying to stop Bingham running back Scott Nichols after he torched the Bengals' defense for over 200 rushing yards in an earlier meeting.
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