A stadium filled with nearly 100,000 roaring fans ... a field packed with players struggling for every yard ... sidelines crammed with athletes, coaches, reporters, cheerleaders, security personnel and others.
And then there was a locker room with just one player sitting alone.
Talk about a study in contrasts.
That’s the situation BYU sophomore defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi found himself in for much of the second half Saturday night of the 29-26 2OT Cougar win at Tennessee after he was ejected from game for targeting.
“It’s an old stadium and they’re not going to update the visitors locker room, so there was no TV in there,” Kaufusi said. “I was in there alone without TV, just hearing the cheers. I didn’t know what was going on. From going from being in one of the loudest stadiums in the country to being in an empty locker room, it was definitely a different experience.”
Yet while he might not have had anyone physically in the locker room, he had his cell phone — and a supportive family.
“I grabbed my phone and started FaceTiming my brothers,” Kaufusi said. “I FaceTimed Corbin, who was at home watching the game on TV and then Bronson jumped in from his hotel, because he had a game the next day. There was a delay in the broadcast, so I could hear cheers going on and then I would have to wait and see what happened. I was trying to decipher if they were good cheers or bad. That’s how I finished walking around.”
He had time to think about the targeting play and what had happened.
“That call is always tough,” Kaufusi said. “We saw on film that he wasn’t very mobile, so we wanted to bring some pressure. On that play, I came free off the blitz and he threw the ball. I delivered the hit and then saw the flag. I hoped it wasn’t on me. Then they switched it to targeting. When it was on the big screen in slow motion, all the boos came down. The main part was getting my head out of the way, which is tough being this tall.”
He realized that his game might be over.
“I’ve never been ejected and my brothers were never ejected,” Kaufusi said. “I’d never had it happen. Then I just started jogging off to the boos and dirty looks.”
In the locker room, his family had mixed reactions to the penalty.
“My dad (former BYU coach Steve Kaufusi) got there and was on the FaceTime,” Kaufusi said. “Corbin and Bronson didn’t like the call but my dad totally thought it was targeting. He was like, ‘that’s what you get.’ It was classic him having that coach mentality.”
Cougar defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said he thought the call was pretty clear.
“That was targeting,” Tuiaki said. “He’s got tackle chest-up and might have been a step late as well. He’s got to make better decisions and he knows that. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to coach him up better on how to do it and he’s got to be better at making decisions.”
He ended up watching the rest of the game in the locker room with his family, so when BYU finally pulled out the improbable win in double-overtime, he was loaded with adrenaline.
“I found out we won, so I went out to the tunnel and saw everyone celebrating,” Kaufusi said. “I was cheering from down there but when the team started moving down toward the tunnel, Coach (Ilaisa) Tuiaki waved me on and I ran out. I was jumping and hollering. It was a great experience at Tennessee and a great team win.”
As BYU gets ready to host No. 24 USC on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ABC), Kaufusi knows he has to pay the rest of the price for his mistake against the Volunteers. He compared it to being grounded when he was growing up.
“We have a lot of depth on the defensive line, so others will fill in for me,” Kaufusi said. “I’ll sit out the first half but I’ll come back with fresh legs in the second half.”
The goal is to never make that mistake again and have a targeting call take him off the field.
“I’ve been looking up other calls and the rules,” Kaufusi said. “On that occasion, I just hit him. I didn’t wrap him up. I need to do a wrap-up with my head to the side and stay low. At 6-foot-7, I’ve got to get low pretty quick and go pretty far. That’s no excuse. It’s definitely something I need to be aware of when I’m coming through on blitzes.”