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Nick Wagner, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Butch Pau'u (38) forces a fumble by Utah Utes wide receiver Kyle Fulks (6) during their match in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.
Butch is huge. His heart, the way that he plays, he’s a big part of this defense. —BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, on Butch Pau'u

PROVO — Since he was a youngster, BYU sophomore middle linebacker Butch Pau’u has had a fascination with teeth.

It began, Pau’u explains, with watching a character, named Chip Skylark, from the television cartoon show “Fairly Odd Parents.”

“He has these perfect white teeth. His teeth glow,” Pau’u said, flashing his own perfect white teeth. “From there, when I was a kid, I wanted to make sure that everyone had good teeth.”

His desire to become a dentist intensified while he served a mission to Honduras. “I saw that not many people have that opportunity,” he said.

Someday, once his football playing days are over, Pau’u wants to have his own dental practice in California.

For now, though, he’s more focused on rattling molars than fixing them.

Pau'u says he likes "to play happy," which explains why he smiles a lot while he's on the field.

So plan, once again, on Pau’u making plays in the middle of the Cougar defense while sporting his grin under his facemask when BYU hosts UCLA Saturday (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The 6-foot, 223-pounder from Anaheim, California, has recorded a team-leading 18 tackles, with three tackles-for-loss, one sack and a forced fumble. With his punishing hits and timely tackles, Pau’u has proven to be a force.

“Butch is huge. His heart, the way that he plays, he’s a big part of this defense,” said defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “There’s a lot of different guys that the personality of the defense comes through them. Butch is one of them.”

“It’s awesome to watch him on film just wrecking guys,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “He’s been a revelation for us. He’s come in and played as if he were a veteran. He’s been a leader and playmaker.”

After spring ball, Pau'u was penciled in as Harvey Langi’s (6-3, 252) backup at middle linebacker.

“My whole mentality was just to support the team, to carry the role I had and to support the seniors and contribute any way I could,” Pau’u said.

But in fall camp, Langi was moved to defensive end, opening up a starting spot for Pau’u. When Pau’u was named the starter, “I do remember an overwhelming feeling of joy because I feel like I’ve worked hard to be able to be in this position,” he said.

Pau’u is living up to his coaches’ expectations.

“That’s why our defensive coaching staff felt comfortable with him moving to middle linebacker,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “We thought he could play that position and that we could put Harvey at D-end. Butch is a really, really instinctive, great player. He’s hard to run over. He knocks people back. That’s what you want. He’s also a great leader on the field for our defense.”

While he's considered to be undersized for a middle linebacker, Pau’u is defying convention.

“I still have a long way to go. People are still going to doubt,” he said. “They’re going to say these are two lucky games that I had and there’s still the rest of the year to go. What I have to do is just continue to play my game and be able to show up on the field and I’ll let my actions speak for themselves.”

Off the field, Pau’u is known for his willingness to serve others, and he was the recipient of the Floyd Johnson Service Award last spring at the annual Y Awards for making a positive impact on the community and on the team.

Pau’u’s play has earned him a few nicknames, like “Pow-Pow” and his preferred moniker, “The Hammer.”

But given his interest in teeth, and dentistry, maybe “The Drill” would be more fitting.

“Whatever you want,” Warner said of Pau’u’s nicknames. “He lays it down.”


UCLA (1-1) at BYU (1-1)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT, LaVell Edwards Stadium

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com