PROVO — BYU sophomore linebacker Alani Fua has almost everything you could want to excel on the gridiron. The 6-5 outside linebacker is not only blessed with good height, but an amazing amount of overall athleticism, allowing great mobility and speed for someone of his stature.
Fua hails from Southern California powerhouse Oaks Christian where many programs, including Ohio State, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington, offered him scholarships. BYU won out, however, and as he sets to begin his sophomore campaign, Cougar coaches are looking to him for a major contribution.
He’s good to go in almost all areas of his game as evidenced by this past spring practice session. He saw almost exclusive reps playing at outside linebacker with the first-teamers, due to Kyle Van Noy sitting out with injury, and did very well with those reps.
“Alani is right where he needs to be,” noted outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga. “He’s so athletic, and now that he’s learning the defense more and more, he’s able to move instinctively. That’s where we want all our guys to get. He’s right there and he’s really going to help us this year.”
What Fua does lack, however, is size. He reported to BYU weighing less than 200 pounds, with the prospects of taking on blocks on the edge very much in question.
He redshirted his freshman year, as a result, working hard to bulk up his frame. He was able to get up to around 205 after his first year and saw playing time during passing situations and in mop-up duty primarily.
This season he's looking to play even more as he works to become an every-down option at outside linebacker. Fua notes that an expanded waistline and shirt size is his key to receiving an expanded role.
“I reported to spring camp at around 215, and I want to get up to around 230 by the time fall gets here,” said Fua. “I obviously need the extra weight to defend against the run and that’s the goal. I want to be a guy that can defend both the run and the pass in every situation.”
Fua’s battle to put on good weight is surprising considering the size of both his father George and older brother Sione.
George is simply enormous — a hulking 300-plus man who all but crushes your hand when shaking it. Sione, meanwhile, signed with Stanford out of high school as a 280-plus lineman who went on to be drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2011.
“They just ate all the food when I was growing up – they didn’t leave me anything,” quipped Fua. “Seriously though, it’s weird how they’re so big and I can’t put on much weight no matter how hard I try.”
The good news is that there is strong indication that the increased weight gain is coming. George recalls being as skinny as Alani when he was the same age, before experiencing a big increase in weight just before his junior season in college.
George has obviously relayed this to Alani, encouraging him to be patient and he’ll get to a decent playing weight. But the outside linebacker isn’t content to just wait around, however.
“I’m doing everything I can to gain weight,” said Fua. “I’m working out a ton and I’m meeting with nutritionists constantly. I’ve changed my diet and I’m eating about six meals a day, and it’s working. I’m getting up there, and I think getting up to 230 by the time this next season starts is possible. I do think my dad’s genes will kick in, but not too much. I don’t want to be that big — just a little bigger.”
The important thing for Fua is to not allow the increased weight gains to affect his current strengths as a player — speed and mobility.
“Alani is so good in the open field already,” said Poppinga. “He can cover so much field with how tall he is and how well he moves. Speed is his big strength, and we obviously don’t want to lose that, but he does need to get bigger. We need to get him down there, taking on blocks and defending the run and he’s getting there.”
While Fua is getting to the point where he can excel on the field, he’s already seen a lot of success as a student. The young father feels that BYU has met his expectations for both him and his wife.
“BYU is really the perfect place for me, and I knew that when I was being recruited,” he said. “It really has everything I need, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be to raise my kid and go to school. I love it here and so does my family, so everything is going great.”
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