BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi casts a very large shadow.
That shadow tends to shut down a large portion of the football field on Saturday afternoons.
At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, the junior from Timpview is expected to make a big impact for the Cougars this season after moving from defensive end to linebacker. A hamstring injury suffered in conditioning drills kept Kaufusi out of practice for much of fall camp.
When he came back for his first full practice, so did the shadow.
“To me it was very noticeable, right off the get-go,” BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell said. “It’s a big deal to have him back. He has a presence in the run game. The offense tried to run the ball in the boundary a couple of times (in practice) and it didn’t happen.
"Then he fooled Taysom (Hill) on a read. He made Taysom keep it and Bronson jumped up on him. It would have been a tackle for a loss. In the pass game, I think you saw the pocket collapse really fast. The ball’s not going to get out. He can rush.”
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he would start to get worried if Kaufusi wasn’t back the second week of fall camp. Kaufusi didn’t make it back until the third week, but didn’t appear to be any worse for the wear. Even though he wasn’t allowed contact in practice, he worked hard to stay in shape.
“Bronson worked out, like, four times a day,” outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga said. “We have to tell him not to work out.”
Kaufusi said he took plenty of mental reps but was anxious to get back on the field.
“The injury went on two weeks, and during the third week I thought, ‘This thing needs to get kicked soon or I’m going to be in trouble.’ In the third week, it just went away. I was happy that it went away.”
Kaufusi, who served an LDS mission to New Zealand right out of high school, returned in August of 2012 and played in all 13 games as a defensive end. After a stint with the BYU basketball team as a terrifyingly physical power forward, Kaufusi earned a starting role on the football team last fall, totaling 37 tackles (19 solo), four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
After the 2013 season, coaches approached Kaufusi and asked him to move to the “Will” linebacker spot, the one All-American Kyle Van Noy had manned so spectacularly the past three seasons.
“Bronson had a spring,” Howell said. “We trained him last year in our nickel, we call it our ‘X’ backer spot. It’s very similar to the Will. So he had a good idea of how to do that already. He’s pretty smart, and on top of it, so he’s pretty good right now. I like it.”
Kaufusi was listed at 282 pounds when he played defensive end, but said he was closer to 300.
“I feel a lot more mobile,” Kaufusi said. “I was really heavy last year and the year before. Now I’m down at my natural weight. I feel like I can do a lot more.”
Kaufusi is just tapping into his considerable potential. Last year, Poppinga said because of his knowledge of the game and superior experience, Kaufusi could eventually pass Ziggy Ansah, now a defensive end with the Detroit Lions.
Kaufusi is relishing the chance to play a new position.
“Part of it is genetics,” Kaufusi said. “You have to have a body that can keep up with you. What BYU teaches in the football program is that when the opportunity is there, you have to take it.”
Despite the loss of Van Noy -- and other stalwarts such as Daniel Sorensen, Spencer Hadley, Uan'i Unga and Ethyn Manumaleuna -- Kaufusi said he thinks this year’s BYU defense will be another good one.
“I feel like BYU defenses always just reload, reload, reload,” he said. “We always have great players go like Ziggy left, or Kyle is gone, and great players before that like Jan Jorgensen and Bryan Kehl, all those guys. Every year guys just kept coming and stepping up. It’s a matter of who’s going to step up and we have guys who can.”