Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
BYU running back Manase Tonga will miss next season for the Cougars due to academic issues.

PROVO — A key contributor to BYU's offense won't be suiting up for the Cougars next fall.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall announced Monday that senior running back Manase Tonga has been ruled academically ineligible and will not play in 2008.

Tonga was BYU's second-leading rusher last season, gaining 305 yards on 88 carries and scoring eight touchdowns. Regarded as one of the Cougars' best blockers in the backfield, Tonga also caught 27 passes for 248 yards.

"Not having Manase with us this coming season is disappointing and hurts our program," Mendenhall said in a statement. "However, our program is designed so that the next player in line will step in and contribute at a high level."

Fortunately for the Cougars, they are well-stocked at the running back position, with sophomore Harvey Unga, who rushed for 1,227 yards and was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2007 and senior Fui Vakapuna, who rushed for 283 yards a year ago amid an injury-plagued campaign. Redshirt freshman J.J. DiLuigi, who missed the 2007 season due to a foot injury but shined in the spring game last month, and junior Wayne Latu are two Cougars who will vie to fill the void left by Tonga.

Tonga has been suspended from BYU and may re-apply for admission in October for winter semester, 2009. Tonga will redshirt in 2008.

"I'm confident Manase will take the necessary steps to restore his eligibility and be able to return to the team next season," Mendenhall said.

This isn't the first time Tonga has found himself in trouble at BYU.

Last July, Tonga was arrested after a traffic stop when a police officer pulled Tonga over for failing to stop at a stop sign in Provo. A warrant was out for Tonga's arrest because he had not paid an $82 ticket for running a stop sign in August 2006, according to court documents. Provo police said Tonga gave a fictitious name during the traffic stop.

Mendenhall suspended Tonga for the 2007 season-opener against Arizona. He also missed a significant portion of fall practice while waiting for legal matters to be resolved in connection with his arrest.

Tonga's younger brother, Matangi, a highly recruited defensive lineman, saw a lot of action as a true freshman in 2006 before being suspended indefinitely by Mendenhall for a violation of team rules.

Last November, Matangi Tonga was sentenced in 4th District Court to 36 months of probation and 90 days on the jail's ankle-monitoring system for four three-degree felonies of burglary. As part of the deal, the state agreed to lower the charges if Matangi Tonga keeps out of trouble and completes his probation requirements.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com