Fua in quiet pursuit
This story was originially published in the BYU-Virginia game program on September 20, 2014
Right up until the moment a cougar leaps out to ambush its prey, the prey hears nothing. Despite savage tools that make the cougar a lethal hunter, he spends most of his time in quiet pursuit – waiting for the right time to be aggressive and loud.
Outside linebacker Alani Fua epitomizes BYU’s mascot.
“Alani doesn’t say much,” outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said. “He stays really calm, which is rare in football. A lot of players can get too emotional and lose it on the football field. Alani’s not like that at all.”
Fua’s calm concentration builds until he unleashes sudden fury on crucial downs.He breaks through the line of scrimmage to pull down opposing running backs. He leaps into the air to knock pass attempts to the ground.
Fua showed timelyfierceness in 2013. In BYU’s homecoming game against Georgia Tech, he scratched out the Wasps’ second-half comeback attempt with an interception and 51-yard return for a touchdown. In BYU’s one-point victory at Houston, Fua intercepted another pass on Houston’s final drive to seal the win.
“His playmaking ability is as good as that of anybody we’ve had here,” Poppinga said of the senior from San Fernando, California.
With a nose for the football, Fua led the team in interceptions (2) last year and ranked second in passes broken up (9).
“Alani is naturally instinctive,” Poppinga said. “You can’t teach that.”
Fua’s 6-foot-5 frame couples with his instincts to make scoring a tall order for opposing offenses.
“With his height and speed, he’s got multiple tools that many players don’t have,” defensive coordinator Nick Howell said. “We’re able to do a lot of the things we do because of his ability to morph between different responsibilities on defense.”
Fua’s ability landed him multiple preseason honors in 2014. He was named to watch lists for the Butkus Award (given annually to the nation’s best linebacker), the Bronco Nagurski Trophy (given annually to the nation’s best overall defensive player) and the Rotary Lombardi Award (given to the nation’s best defensive lineman or linebacker). Sports Illustrated named Fua one of the top NFL prospects from a non-Power 5 conference.
Attention from the media quiets Fua perhaps more than anything else. Fua admits he doesn’t enjoy all of the cameras and microphones, and after he’s been destructive on the football field, he talks to the media in a soft voice and deflects praise.
Teammates look to the senior and returning starter for leadership. Not one for chest beating or stirring pep talks, it’s Fua’s quietness that causes those around him to pay attention.
“When Alani says something, he means it, because he doesn’t say a whole lot,” Howell said. “Because of that, I think guys listen when he speaks.”
Both Howell and Poppinga described Fua as a “do it, don’t say it” type of football player.
“He’s a guy who leads by example, rather than vocally,” Poppinga said.
Fua’s leadership responsibilities extend beyond his role on the field. A father of two sons, Jrae (4) and Malakai (1), the quiet leader is one of the most experienced fathers on the team.
Although many of his teammates are married, Fua and his wife Malaysia arrived at BYU with a baby boy already. Being young parents is actually the biggest reason the Fuas chose BYU. They felt they would fit among the many young families in Provo.
With two growing sons, Fua sees a difference in the responsibilities he has compared with those of many of his teammates.
“Even with a lot of the married guys, they can just hang out with their wives,” Fua said. “We have to get a babysitter. We need to put the boys to bed every night. It’s hard sometimes, but I think it’s helped me to be more mature.”
Fua’s grateful for Malaysia, who takes care of things at home when her husband is busy with football.
“My wife’s really supportive, and she knows that when football comes around, that’s where I’m going to spend most of my time,” Fua said. “She’s used to it and does a great job of watching the kids and taking weight off my shoulders.”
Part of Malaysia’s support comes in the form of allowing her husband silence the day before a football game. She knows he has a lot on his mind and does what she can to let him focus on the next day’s game.
“She’s learned when not to talk to me,” Fua said. “It’s funny, because on other days we’re just laid back and calm, but leading up to game day it gets more serious and quiet. She knows that I’m in the zone.”
While Fua is suiting up on game day and taking the field, his wife and kids are suiting up too – donning homemade t-shirts with “FUA” printed on them. Malaysia’s family has made dozens of t-shirts and even made a couch cover with Alani’s name and number on it. Fua’s father hosts tailgate parties every home game on the south side of the stadium. Between Alani and Malaysia’s families, the couple has a whole team of supporters.
Less reserved than his father, Jrae yells as his dad takes the field. Fua said it’s fun to see his son recognize what his dad does on the football field.
“Every time Jrae sees the number five, he gets excited and tells everyone around him that his daddy’s number is five and he plays for BYU,” Fua said. “He cheers and does all the chants during the games.”
Given Fua’s ability as a football player and the support he receives from his family, it would seem football would always be a given for Fuas – that Alani was destined to play out his eligibility at BYU and make a smooth transition to professional football if given the opportunity, and the Fua family would center around pads, helmets and weekend games.
Yet Fua revealed that at the onset of his junior season, he nearly walked away from football.
“I had a lot going on with football, school, family, church callings and everything,” Fua said. “I felt overwhelmed.”
For Fua, life felt like an impossible attempt to rush the passer, cover the tight end and cut down the running back – all at the same time. In his quiet introspection, he decided that eliminating football from his list of responsibilities could help him be a better father and student.
“I actually wanted to quit, just finish my major and start life,” Fua said.
He talked to his dad and coach Mendenhall. They listened to his concerns and encouraged him to keep going. Fua changed his mind about quitting.
After a breakout year in 2013, what was almost the end of his football career now feels more like the beginning.
“Last year I just scratched the surface of what I want,” he said.
During the time Fua deliberated over his future in football, he gained a clearer picture of why he was playing, and what he wanted. He realized that if he gave his all to the game, he could follow his older brother’s footsteps into the NFL.
Alani’s older brother Sione – who played at Stanford – signed with the Carolina Panthers after being drafted in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. A defensive lineman, Sione is now part of the Denver Broncos organization.
More than the pride and prestige of playing in the NFL, Fua wants what his older brother has because he knows signing to play at the highest level would help him to provide for his family. He’s seen how Sione’s life and opportunities have changed since being drafted.
“If I was able to sign an NFL contract, that would really help set my family up for the future,” Fua said.
Regardless of whether or not he’s NFL bound, Fua enjoys his construction management major and plans on one day starting his own custom homebuilding company. So for the time being, he just wants to help his team be the best it can be and take care of his school assignments.
As professional scouts review film of Fua, they’ll see violent pursuit of ball carriers and electrifying plays on the ball. They’ll miss who Fua is in the meantime—just a man quietly going about his business.
Jocks of all trades
Alani Fua didn’t just star on the football field at Oaks Christian High School. He played volleyball his junior year and was named all-division first team, amassing 103 kills.
Fua is one of many Cougar football players who have excelled in other sports. Here’s a look at some of BYU football’s most talented multi-sport athletes:
New Zealander Paul Lasike’s first love is rugby. On the rugbypitch, Lasike is a four-time All-American and three-time national champion at BYU. The running back first became interested in football on his mission in Alabama, and subsequently tried out for the football team. Despite his success in rugby and football, Lasike says that his favorite sport to play is actually volleyball.
Mitch Mathews didn’t just catch touchdown passes at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon. He also dug out throws in the dirt and knocked in runs as a first baseman in baseball. Mathews represented Oregon on the Junior Olympic 16-under Baseball Team and finished his high school varsity career with a .364 batting average.
Mathews’ size and leaping ability have also led to him developing a basketball dunking repertoire. He was able to display his impressive dunks before fans prior to a BYU basketball game in 2013.
Running back Adam Hine runs well with or without pads. In addition to football, Hine excelled in track and field at Snow Canyon High School in Utah. He was a three-time long jump and high jump state champion and holds the Utah high school record for the high jump with a jump of 7’2”. Hine has participated with the BYU track and field team, but has never matched his high school record—probably because of the weight he’s put on to play football.
Hine also found a love for BMX at an early age and developed his tricks throughout high school. His favorite trick he’s landed is a backflip.
Bronson Kaufusi’s towering figure came in handy on the hardwood in high school. Kafusi, who dominated on the line as a football player at Timpview High School, was equally dominant in basketball – averaging more than 15 points per game as a junior and senior. Kaufusi joined the BYU basketball team and appeared in 20 games during the 2012-13 season.
Bronson’s younger brother Corbin, who is 6 foot 10 (three inches taller than Bronson), has also been on the football and basketball rosters at BYU, but decided to just play basketball this year.
Nate Carter, a running back and special teams player from St. George, Utah, made the all-state first team three times in baseball at Dixie High School. Carter also grappled his way to two state championships as a wrestler in the 189-pound weight class. Teammate Michael Alisa called Carter the strongest pound-for-pound player on the 2014 BYU team.
BYU football wrapped up its first week of fall camp with its fifth practice on Saturday morning.