Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU defensive lineman Romney Fuga, right, has picked up the slack after Eathyn Manumaleuna, left, suffered an injury.

PROVO — When you ask defensive coaches about the contribution senior defensive lineman Romney Fuga has made to the program, they get thoughtful and heap on the praise. When you ask Fuga himself the same question, he just shrugs it off, laughs and even shows embarrassment at the suggestion that he's meant quite a bit to this year's team and to the program in general.

It's that sort of attitude that has helped key Fuga's success through the years. Since seeing a significant role as a true freshman, the Huntington Beach native has provided a consistently dominant presence in the middle of BYU's 3-4 defense.

This year his role has only been expanded due to a rash of injuries along the defensive front. Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi likes to rotate three different players at the physically demanding nose tackle spot, but this year he has made do largely with just one after Eathyn Manumaleuna's season was cut short due to injury.

"He's played a lot of snaps — more than he probably should because we're so thin at his position, but he has been so consistent for us even when he has to play all those reps," Kaufusi said about Fuga. "He's been facing double teams all year long, but he just keeps on going, and I can't tell you just how much he's meant to us this year."

Through it all, Fuga refuses to claim any hardship and just goes about his business.

"I think I get it from my parents," Fuga said about his workman-like attitude. "They would always just do the jobs they had to do and you'd never see them slacking off or complain. They'd just do what they needed to do, and I try and do the same — just do what you're asked to do, and that's my attitude."

Players such as Ezekiel Ansah, Kyle Van Noy and even Brandon Ogletree have received most of the limelight this season with their play, but it all starts in the middle. The very middle of the 3-4 defense is nose tackle, and it's a position that takes on a lot of blocks, but generally doesn't make a lot of plays.

"The spotlight — while it keeps going around to other players, the one place it isn't going is at the nose where (the play) is the most important in a 3-4 defense," said coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Given his quiet nature, nose tackle is a position Fuga is perfectly suited for, and while he doesn't say much, his teammates all look up to him as a leader.

"Coaches encourage me to be a leader because I'm a senior and all that, but I think being a good example is more important than anything you can say to anyone," Fuga said. "Hopefully I've set a good example for the younger players on the team — I just focus on doing what I need to do and try my hardest to do it and I think a lot of guys on this team do just that."

Fuga's example to his teammates extends away from the field of play as well, which is something Mendenhall is extremely grateful for.

"He's amazing," Mendenhall said. "He's one of the most consistent players I've ever worked with, and he just always does the right thing — both on and off the field."

INJURY UPDATE: Offensive lineman Braden Hansen practiced on Wednesday and could assume his starting role at center this week against San Jose State, according to Mendenhall. Linebackers Uani Unga and Manoa Pikula both returned to practice and are expected to play along with offensive lineman Brock Stringham.

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