I’m just blessed I’m in the position I’m in to be back. There’s a lot of people that helped me get back. —Sione Takitaki
PROVO — The last time Sione Takitaki donned a BYU uniform, he was collecting eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a key half-sack in the Cougars’ come-from-behind 38-24 win over Cincinnati on Oct. 16, 2015.
On Thursday, the junior defensive lineman returned to the practice field for BYU as the team opened fall camp. He missed the 2016 season for unspecified reasons and was suspended the back half of 2015.
It’s been a long way back for the talented pass rusher.
“I’m just blessed I’m in the position I’m in to be back. There’s a lot of people that helped me get back,” he said.
Takitaki has dealt with off-the-field problems — including legal issues and suspensions — during his Cougar career that started in 2014, only allowing him to play 17 games so far at BYU.
Despite this, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Takitaki is expected to be one of the Cougars’ top pass-rushing options in 2017. The last time he played for BYU, Takitaki put up 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss in the first six games of the 2015 season before being suspended for the remainder of the year because of a violation of team rules.
The newly married Cougar believes he can pick up where he left off a season and a half ago and again be a menace to opposing offenses.
“I feel like I am ready,” he said. “My body is telling me I am ready. It’s going to be a great season.”
Focused on the Vikings, not the Tigers: Earlier this week, LSU coach Ed Orgeron talked about BYU during a meeting with a Rotary club in Louisiana. The Cougars are the Tigers’ season-opening opponent, on Sept. 2 at NRG Stadium in Houston, home of the NFL’s Texans.
Orgeron said he wants to treat fall camp like an NFL preseason to create competition, including four scrimmages at Tiger Stadium, with the “fifth” scrimmage then being LSU’s game against BYU. The coach also quipped on an oft-discussed topic about Cougar players and their age because many go on LDS Church missions.
“Let me say this about BYU — 24-, 25-, 26-year-old guys. A lot of them married,” Orgeron said, according to The Advocate. “Don’t have to worry about curfew. They’ll have 4-year-old sons walking into the game. Have a lot of respect for them.”
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake quickly diffused the question when asked if it’s too early for Orgeron to be talking about the Cougars.
“To his defense, we’re his first game and they’re our second. We’re focused on Portland State,” Sitake said of BYU’s season-opening game Aug. 26 at LaVell Edwards Stadium against the Vikings. “I know Coach O, he’s a really good man. I’m not really worried about LSU right now.”
No time for a sandcastle: One noticeable addition to the Student Athlete Building outdoor fields this year is a giant sand pit that sits parallel with the SAB, built for conditioning athletes’ speed, agility and footwork in the tougher running environment of sand.
It’s almost like a slice of home for BYU senior linebacker Fred Warner, who hails from San Marcos, California, less than an hour away from sunny San Diego.
“I’ve actually gone in it a few times to do footwork stuff, but they just now got it finished,” he said. “We haven’t done anything too bad.”
Same old ball coach: BYU junior quarterback Tanner Mangum said Sitake is the same old guy he’s always been when asked if the head coach has changed in year two.
“He’s still the same passionate, fiery guy,” Mangum said of his head coach. “He’s got that love for the game and the love of his team. He’s one of the funniest guys off the field, but when he’s on the field, he’s intense. We like that about him.”