PROVO — In more ways than one, BYU true freshman defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi is making up for lost time.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder from Provo returned home from a mission on July 24, just a week before the start of fall camp. Few expected to see Kaufusi on the field this season.
"We were just planning on keeping him with us to kind of ease the transition after his mission and redshirt him," coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week. "Never imagined he'd play. Thank goodness, since we don't have many D-linemen left right now."
The Cougars have been without defensive linemen Ian Dulan and Eathyn Manumaleuna due to injuries. That's provided an opportunity for Kaufusi to make an impact.
In eight games, he has recorded eight tackles, two sacks, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry, and one fumble recovery.
"I didn't know what to expect coming home from my mission," Kaufusi said. "I knew that if I could do anything, I'd be able to help the team in passing situations. But with so many injuries, I've been given the opportunity to play against the run a lot and I'm getting a lot more playing time than I expected. It's going good, though."
So what was fall camp like, being fresh off a mission?
"It was pretty different," Kaufusi said with a smile. "I think one of the weirdest things was changing my mentality from being on a mission to hitting people on the field."
As Ziggy Ansah's backup at left end, Kaufusi should see more playing time on Saturday (1 p.m., MT, ROOT Sports) when BYU visits Georgia Tech.
Kaufusi not only likes being on the field, but it's been enjoyable for him off the field, too because his dad, Steve, is his position coach.
"I love it. It's amazing," Bronson said. "I don't think a lot of players get to do that. I like it because of that father-son relationship. I'm with him all of the time, too. I take advantage of that. He's always there for me to ask him questions. He's always willing to help me. I expect him to be a lot tougher on me. It's good."
"I enjoy it," Steve said. "I treat him like everybody else, maybe I'm a little harder on him. There are times after he goes home we can talk more about stuff, but we try to keep everything here. We don't really talk much about football at home, unless there's something important that he needs to ask."
As a football coach, Steve Kaufusi has spent plenty of time away from his family over the years. These days, his family is with him more.
"When my kids were little, I didn't have much of a chance to be around them during the day," said Steve, who has another son, Corbin, who participated in BYU practices last spring and is currently serving a mission. "It's fun spending time with them here and being around them. So, it's kind of like making up for when they were younger."
"It's so nice because he was gone a lot when I was younger, out recruiting and coaching," Bronson said. "Now, I get to be with him all of the time. All those hours he spends away, I'm actually here with him — every single minute of the day. At home, it's family time — chores, eating and watching movies together. Then, when it's football time, we get serious."
As well as Bronson Kaufusi has played this season, he said he has a long ways to go.
"I think in a year I'll be at the level I need to be," he said. "Right now, I'm just trying to build it up. I've already seen a lot of improvement in the last couple of months."
Steve Kaufusi said the coaching staff has been careful not to expect too much too soon from Bronson.
"We've slowly been integrating him," Steve said. "We've been smart with watching him and helping him to avoid injuries. Going into the season, as a coaching staff, we thought that if anything he could help us pass rush this year. That's something he's done. In the Notre Dame game, he only played 11 snaps. But he's been getting in shape for a couple months. He's getting his footwork and agility back. It's been fun to watch that. But he's not all the way back."
Bronson Kaufusi basically missed three consecutive seasons because he suffered a serious injury early during his senior year at Timpview High.
"It's been three years without football," he said. "It's great to be playing again. I love it. I've been waiting a long time for it. I'm taking advantage of every moment, and I'm enjoying it to its fullest."
Cougars and Yellow Jackets on the air
BYU (4-4) at Georgia Tech (3-4)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MT
Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM