PROVO — The small things matter in developing big results on the football field. Just ask BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga and his position coach/defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.
With weight loss a primary goal for the mammoth interior lineman this offseason, it helps to be as specific as possible according to Tuiaki, who believes Tonga is poised for his best season ever.
That specification is for Tonga to weigh in at 319 pounds when the season starts, not 320, which would seem a logical round number in a goal of losing weight.
"If it's 320, then it's 321 and then 322. In his mind, if he's 319 or less, then he's going to be right there at the right weight," Tuiaki explained. "The truth is that he can play at 325, but to keep him manageable and healthy and ready, we need to see him at 319."
Tonga agrees with Tuiaki's mandate and had just five pounds left to shed to reach 319 pounds when attending BYU's media day back on June 18. To hit that magic number his diet consists primarily of meat and rice, and not eating anything after 9 p.m.
"It's going good. Real good," Tonga said. "I like meat and rice, so it's all good, and it's working for me."
Of course, diet is just part of the process.
Tonga is finally able to have a real offseason for the first time since transferring to the Cougar program just prior to the 2017 season. He made the transfer after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Kansas and was immediately thrown into action after showing well in preseason practices.
But injuries and subsequent back surgery hindered much of the natural progress he could have made heading into his sophomore year. That inability to work out for much of the offseason resulted in him arriving to fall camp relatively out of shape.
"He's never had a real offseason until this year," Tuiaki said.
Despite being unable to fully prepare for the 2018 season, Tonga proved productive, even dominant, while starting at defensive tackle. Yes, he played at a much heavier weight than coaches would have preferred, but for the most part carried his weight well in consistently causing problems for opposing offensive fronts.
Now that he's had a full offseason to slim down and stay in shape it's natural to assume a signficant jump in overall production will occur.
"We're seeing him become the guy that he was always going to be," Tuiaki said. "He's big and really, really dominant, and fast player. ... This offseason has been huge for him and he's done a good job managing his weight and being where he needs to be."
"I feel way stronger in the weight room, but most of all I feel so much faster," Tonga added. "I played at around 350 last year, and at the time I didn't realize how much better it would be if I lost weight. I can see that difference now and it's night and day. I just can't wait to see what it is in pads when we finally get to play for real."19 comments on this story
Tonga's first real chance to show his progress will come against Utah, a game most every player looks forward to, but can't really talk about fully until the week of the game. This year is different, however, with the Cougars kicking off against the in-state rival that staged a big comeback to take its eighth straight win in the rivalry game last year.
"Oh man, I can't wait for that. Let's get it on," Tonga said. "It was tough losing like we did last year, but we're working hard to change things around this year. All we can do is work as hard as possible to change things and I think we've done that. I'm definitely locked in and trying my best to not let what happened last year happen again."