I'm just grateful to have so many great guys to learn from, because it's still tough. I'm still getting back. Playing at this level is completely different than at high school, and it's a new challenge. —BYU linebacker Christian Folau
PROVO — Christian Folau is just entering his redshirt freshman season at BYU but has already undergone a series of changes since leading a fearsome East High School defense nearly four years ago.
LDS Church mission service, a post-mission transfer of programs and most recently a position change has underscored what the 6-foot-1, 237-pound prospect has gone through since signing a letter of intent to play for Oregon State in 2015.
As for his most recent change, Folau is all for it, after coaches approached him about switching from one of the outside linebacker positions to middle linebacker during the early portion of this year's spring practice session. At the time of the switch he was seeing a lot of reps at the so-called Bo linebacker spot, playing with the second- and first-team defensive units primarily.
"I'll play wherever I can get on the field," Folau said about the change, adding, "it's great, though, learning from such a great player like Butch (Pau'u.) He's helping me so much, not with just how to play the position well, but how to lead and just everything. He's a great guy to learn from."
Folau played middle linebacker for East, and has stated since that it's his preferred position, although he's been willing to play wherever the coaches feel he'll be able to help the team. His play for the Leopards attracted many college recruiters from around the country, with recruiting services dubbing him a four-star prospect.
Folau appeared likely to sign with Wisconsin, until Gary Andersen left the Badgers to coach at Oregon State. Folau followed Andersen, signing with the Beavers, stating at the time Kalani Sitake being Andersen's defensive coordinator influenced his decision heavily. He then followed Sitake to BYU after serving a two-year mission to San Jose, arriving home just a few weeks prior to the start of the 2017 season.
"It was rough coming home and trying to play again," Folau said. "It's hard working your way back into shape, and in some ways I still feel I'm working my way back, even now. But it's going well and I'm looking forward to helping the team the best I can, wherever I can."
Helping out last season meant running with the scout team. For someone not used to playing exclusively for a practice squad, it was quite the dramatic change.
"It's not what anyone wants to do, but it's definitely where I needed to be and where I could help the team most last season," Folau said. "You're just not ready when you come back, but they get you ready, especially with all the extra conditioning you do."
So far this spring coaches have been generally pleased with Folau's progress, with Sitake noting the reasons for switching him from outside to middle linebacker.
"I think he's more of a Mike (middle linebacker) to begin with," Sitake said. "That's where we project him, and we're just trying to get the best 11 (players) out there. There's a lot of carry-over from the (outside linebacker positions) and now we're asking him to be more of a vocal leader and as a captain of the defense."
Leading is something Folau seems well-accustomed to, given his role playing for East and in serving as student body president his senior high school year. But for right now it's all about learning, with embracing a leadership role to perhaps come after.
"I'm just grateful to have so many great guys to learn from, because it's still tough. I'm still getting back," Folau said. "Playing at this level is completely different than at high school, and it's a new challenge. I went through some changes, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, but it's coming. With every day I'm feeling more and more confident."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had a photo that misidentified Talon Shumway as Christian Folau.