Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU's Eathyn Manumaleuna, left and Romney Fuga run on BYU's first day of spring football practice Monday, March 5, 2012, in Provo, Utah.

PROVO — BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna is back for another season and position coach Steve Kaufusi couldn’t be more thankful. Since he was a true freshman, Manumaleuna has contributed heavily along the defensive front at both the nose guard and defensive end positions and was due to end his career until sustaining a season-ending injury during week four against Boise State.

Last year’s loss is this year’s gain as Manumaleuna was granted a medical hardship from the NCAA and should add considerably to the line’s overall success in 2013 as a result.

“Eathyn coming back is huge for us because he can do so many things well,” Kaufusi said. “He’s been doing it since his first year, he knows how to play the nose and the end positions and he’s completely trustworthy in whatever spot we play him at. Having him back helps us enormously.”

If the season started tomorrow Manumaleuna would likely start at nose tackle, but the preference is to have him reprise his role at defensive end. True freshman Tuni Kanuch and junior-college transfer Marques Johnson both saw the bulk of the reps at nose guard in the spring, but both would have to step up a bit to match the production Romney Fuga provided last season.

“I saw improvement from both and both are headed in the right direction, so that’s positive,” Kaufusi said about Kanuch and Johnson. “They’re not there yet and they have a ways to go and I really wish I had some more time with them, but now it’s up to them to keep working and keep getting better. We’ll see where they’re at in the fall.”

For Manumaleuna, he’s willing to play wherever coaches need him most, but prefers playing defensive end.

“There’s more one-on-one playing defensive end,” the 6-foot-2, 288-pound senior said. “You get some double-teams, but at nose guard you’re almost guaranteed to get a double-team and it’s a tough job. Whatever Coach Mendenhall needs me to be — nose guard or defensive end — I’ll play it.”

As a savvy veteran Manumaleuna is doing his best to help coach both Kanuch and Johnson and will do the same with players such as Merrill Taliauli and Kalolo Utu when they arrive in the fall.

“I want to help them as much as they want help,” Manumaleuna said. “They have to want to be helped in order for me to help them because I’m there for them. I want to help them a lot. … I want to help them so that they can help the team.”

Given the immediate success enjoyed by both Manumaleuna and Fuga as true freshmen, it’s wrongly assumed that playing an effective nose isn’t all that challenging. It’s an assumption Kaufusi strongly challenges.

“People may think Eathyn and Romney just came in and did it, but those people have no idea how hard each of them worked and how talented both of them are,” Kaufusi said. “It’s not easy, and both Marques and Tuni are finding that out, but I like how they’ve progressed, but, like I said, they both have a long ways to go. They'll have three more guys coming in the fall they'll have to compete against, so I'm hopeful we'll find enough bodies to play nose effectively to keep Eathyn on the outside.”

Holt showing promise at end

Defensive end looks to have some good potential overall and should be helped considerably with regards to talent and depth should Manumaleuna play there. Throughout the spring Kaufusi has been impressed with the progress of players such as Remington Peck and is anxious to get his son, Bronson Kaufusi, back full time after missing most of the spring playing with the basketball team.

One of the most intriguing options at end is converted tight end Austin Holt, who is making slow and steady progress at the position.

“It’s coming and you can see him getting more comfortable, but he has a lot of work to do,” Kaufusi said about Holt. “The desire is there and he’s working hard, so that’s the important thing. He’s talented enough and with the desire he has to play and to play well, I think he’ll be fine and could be someone who really helps us this season.”


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney