More than two years ago, BYU football fans got a glimpse of the potential of tight end Joe Tukuafu when he hauled in a pair of passes for 62 yards in the 2017 spring game.
Since then, however, the former East star hasn’t gotten a chance to do much for the Cougars.
First he was forced to sit out the 2017 season after not being granted a release from Utah State, then wasn’t with the team at all in 2018.
That made Wednesday’s return to practice a sweet moment for the 6-foot-4, 265-pound athlete.
“It feels good,” Tukuafu said after practice on Wednesday. “I give thanks to BYU, the administration and Coach Kalani Sitake for what they’ve done for me during the year I was out, for how they have helped me and influenced me to keep the fire burning about wanting to play football and wanting to come back. It was a good first day and I’m just happy to be back.”
Although Tukuafu played some offensive line when he was on the scout team in 2017, Sitake emphasized that he won’t be changing positions.
“He’s a tight end,” Sitake said. “He has the No. 87 jersey on right now. It’s still a little tight on him right now but he’s a tight end for us. We’ll need his presence on the line of scrimmage.”
Tukuafu explained that he attempted to stay in shape and be prepared to get back to playing college football.
“During the year off, I took time thinking and took time to work,” Tukuafu said. “Working helped me mentally to overcome a lot of things throughout that year. I worked out at East High, going back to my alma mater. It was taking things back and looking at what brought me to BYU. During that whole year, I worked out at East High and did what I had to do to keep myself accountable to the team and to Coach Kalani (Sitake). Today I felt great physically.”
He said that his relationships with Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki were huge motivators as he dealt with the challenges during his time away.
“It was kind of hard but I always wanted to come back,” Tukuafu said. “I’ve known Coach Kalani (Sitake) and we were always close throughout that year. In 2010, when he was at Utah, we were at the Ute Shoot and he walked up and introduced himself. With him and Coach (Ilaisa) Tuiaki, it was a really tight bond with them. Those are guys I have respected since then. They walked in and showed me love. It’s time to pay it back and keep that bond going. Every meeting I told him I would come back and give it my all.”
The Cougar tight end said that he’s thrilled to be back with the team and get back to being a student-athlete.
“I’m excited to be back in the classroom,” Tukuafu said. “It’s been awhile since I was in a classroom. I haven’t declared a major but it will be here soon. I’m excited to get back in the full round of things: Going to class, going to practice, watching film, rehab, doing the whole student life. I just feel like I’m ready.”
Tukuafu feels like it has been easy to re-assimilate with the BYU squad.
“Those guys welcomed me back with open arms,” Tukuafu said. “It was cool to see. Coach (Steve) Clark has been a mentor to me and was a guide throughout that year. I’m getting to know the new players. It’s only my second day here but it’s like I never left. I love it.”
He is now going to put his tough blocking and solid receiving ability into play during camp and hopefully on the field during in the 2019 season.
“My goal in fall camp is to learn the plays and get them down,” Tukuafu said. “I want to build the muscle memory, get the routes down and build chemistry with my teammates, especially the quarterbacks and tight ends. My goal for the season is to help the team win. I told Coach Clark to put me wherever he feels best, whether it is blocking or running a route. My goal is to to contribute wherever I can.”