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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
BYU defensive lineman Ian Dulan (cq) (left) tackles University of Northern Iowa quarterback Pat Grace (cq) during the Cougars' home game against the Panthers in Provo, Utah August 30, 2008. Keith Johnson/Deseret News
The team was doing things that they weren’t doing before I left — good things — and I could tell the players were really benefitting from them and that I’d have to do quite a bit to catch up with them. —BYU defensive lineman Ian Dulan

PROVO — BYU defensive lineman Ian Dulan made a huge contribution his first year with the Cougars and hopes to duplicate that effort in his first year back following an LDS mission. Unlike most returned missionaries, however, Dulan's first year back will also be his last.

Dulan’s contribution as a true freshman was as unexpected as they come. The Hilo, Hawaii, native entered the program as an unheralded late commit with just two stars by his name and no offers other than the one from BYU.

At just 17 years old, Dulan came out of fall camp in 2006 with a starting spot at defensive end and went on to start for the next three seasons. He was expected to finish out strong in 2009 before deciding to serve a mission.

“I always had plans to serve a mission, but entering the program at a young age — I think I just sort of got distracted,” said Dulan. “A mission is something I always wanted to do but I guess I got more focused that the Holy Spirit really started working on me after my junior year, so I decided to leave after playing for three years.”

Dulan served two years in the Peoria, Ill., Mission before returning home just prior to the start of last season. He came home more mature but — as is typical — was also out of shape and not ready to contribute.

“I remember going into the weight room right after I got back and I couldn’t believe how much bigger and more cut everyone was,” recalled Dulan. “The team was doing things that they weren’t doing before I left — good things — and I could tell the players were really benefitting from them and that I’d have to do quite a bit to catch up with them.”

After spending last season redshirting, Dulan feels he's regained his pre-mission form during spring ball. He took advantage of first-team reps throughout the practice session and currently feels as quick and as strong as ever.

“It took about a year, but spending that time redshirting was really good for me,” said Dulan. “I feel quicker and faster than I ever have and I’m hoping to go out with a strong senior season because of all the work I’ve put in. I have my upper-body back and my legs back and I feel great.”

His teammates have noticed.

“He’s right back to where he was before his mission when he was teaching me how to do things,” said senior defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna. “He didn’t need me or Romney (Fuga) to teach him anything after he got back. He knows and it’s like he never forgot. He’s teaching me again more than anything.”

But returning to football wasn’t half the battle. Adjusting socially and academically takes some effort, but Dulan adjusted and is doing quite well in both areas, he says.

“The dating scene — it was a bit sketchy and I really had a hard time getting back into it after I got home,” said Dulan. “I’m married now, so I guess it worked out OK. But for me, that was much tougher than adjusting back to football.”

Dulan is expected to start at one end position with fellow seniors Fuga at nose tackle and Manumaleuna at the other end position. All three expected starters contributed heavily as true freshmen and have seen significant contributions since.

All of them feel poised to make their final year the best they’ve had.

“We have everything you need at defensive line, we feel,” said Dulan. “Both Eathyn and Romney were good when I left, but now they’re just that much better and hopefully I can keep up with them. With our experience, we should be able to do some great stuff this season.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney