Getting to know Tejan Koroma
Tejan Koroma doesn’t stop.
The 6-foot, 290-pound senior from Allen, Texas can’t stop. As the center, he fights in the trenches every play. After every snap, he goes head to head with a lineman usually bigger than him. Koroma doesn’t stop, because if he did, the quarterback would go down every time.
While most people would hate the physicality and pressure of this position, Koroma thrives at it.
“I love center so much,” Koroma said. “It’s so intense and it’s just a matter of who’s going to give up first, who’s tougher and who’s bigger. I love the physical part of it but I also love the mental part. I love that the pressure’s on me. It’s so hard, it’s such a challenge. And that’s why I love center.”
The four-year starter and team captain is the first in his family to play football. Koroma’s parents immigrated from Sierra Leone in West Africa before he was born.
“My parents grew up in West Africa and they didn’t always have it easy,” Koroma said. “They sacrificed a lot to come to America and raise my siblings and me. That has always been one of my biggest motivators — to give back to my parents for all of the sacrifices they’ve made for me.”
Koroma’s parents threw him into flag football at age 5 because he was always a bigger kid. He quickly fell in love with the sport and became very dedicated to it.
“As a kid, he would have everything ironed, ready and put together the night before he would play football,” Koroma’s older sister Jaimmy Koroma said. “He couldn’t drive yet, but he would always make sure that he was there on time. He would tell us, ‘Hey! I need to get to practice.’”
He tried all of the positions, but found his calling at center.
ON THE FIELD
Koroma dominated at his position in high school. However, when it came time for college, many schools passed him up because of his height. BYU saw the potential and drive in Koroma and offered him a spot, and he was determined to prove he could excel at the collegiate level.
“A lot of people didn’t think that he was big enough or strong enough to play center,” Koroma’s older half brother Sahr Kpulun said. “I think he’s always had a chip on his shoulder to prove everybody wrong and show he’s fit for and ready for it.”
Throughout his BYU career, Koroma has indeed proved that regardless of his height, he dominates at the collegiate level.
As a freshman in 2014, Koroma earned FWAA Freshman All-America, was named to the ESPN True Freshman All-America Team and Phil Steele’s Freshman All-America and All-Independent Teams.
During his time at BYU, Koroma has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list three times, the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose watch list twice and the Outland Trophy watch list.
Pro Football Focus graded Koroma as one of the top four centers in college football for 2016.
“Tejan is the leader of our group,” BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey said. “He’s the anchor of the offensive line so we count on him a lot. Everything starts with him.”
When Koroma came to BYU as a freshman, he immediately beat out a returning senior starter to secure the starting spot. As a result, he had to grow up quickly and adjust to the collegiate level. Throughout his career, he has excelled in his responsibility to call all run and pass blocking schemes.
“He’s a perfect example of somebody who’s all in at BYU,” Empey said. “He’s committed and he’s done what he’s been asked to do and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Through his example, dedication and fierce competitiveness, Koroma has become a leader for his teammates.
“I love playing next to him,” BYU offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch said. “I trust him. When we get on the field, whatever he says goes. If he tells me to go somewhere, I don’t even hesitate, I don’t even think about it, I just go because I know that he leads the way.”
It’s no wonder why his teammates chose him to be their team captain this year.
“It’s a big honor,” Koroma said about being named captain. “Just knowing that those guys love me almost as much as I love them means a lot to me because I consider those guys my brothers.”
When they’re on the field, Kanuch said Koroma is so competitive that he pushes everybody to be their best.
“He’s probably one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever played with,” BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum said. “He never takes any plays off. And that’s something awesome to have, especially with a center — knowing that every play he’s going to be fighting his hardest, blocking guys, protecting me and getting open lanes for the running backs. He goes all out every play.”
Koroma’s family echoed this. They said that he has always given his all to football.
“He shows up to every play and every game and wants to bring that intensity every time,” Kpulun said. “He wants to show that he’s willing to do anything and everything for BYU football.”
Handsome Tanielu plays on BYU’s defensive line and goes up against Koroma during practice.
“He’s a bit undersized but he makes up for it by being aggressive and going until the whistle’s blown,” Tanielu said. “He’s a beast and has really prepped me for what lies ahead throughout the schedule.”
Koroma plays an essential role in leading his team to victory this year.
“We lean on him for his leadership and his experience,” Empey said. “He’s somebody we really count on for our success this year. We need him.”
OFF THE FIELD
Teammates and family members agree: Koroma on the field is very different from Koroma off the field.
Koroma’s family describes him as well-mannered and calm. His teammates characterize him as goofy, super funny, having a great sense of humor and a jokester.
Mangum shared an experience he had with Koroma during the 2016 Utah State game. He came into the game and forgot to make a certain call. When they got back to the huddle, Koroma got up in his face and told him that he needed to dial in and make the right calls.
When they got to the sideline and the game calmed down, the two hugged each other and Koroma told Mangum that he had done a good job.
“It’s awesome to see the competitiveness on the field but off the field he’s your friend,” Mangum said.
Kesni Tausinga plays opposite Koroma on the defensive line and the two go against each other every day. He shared a similar experience to Mangum’s.
During fall camp last year, the two were going one on one. They started pushing each other and getting physical until somebody broke them up.
Afterward in the locker room, they told each other they loved each other and that it was all cool.
“That embodies Tejan,” Tausinga said. “He’s going to rip your head off on the field and then in the locker room he’s just a genuine, nice guy. He’s so awesome. He’s not a ‘tough guy,’ meaning that he’s not going to try and intimidate anyone off the field. But on the field, it’s a different story.”
As Tausinga said, Koroma doesn’t try to intimidate people off the field. Unlike many successful athletes, Koroma doesn’t take on the arrogant, “better than others” mentality. He’s constantly reaching out to other guys on the team and has everyone’s back.
Empey said that a few weeks ago, some of the new players on the team were at the mall and ran into Koroma. They said “hi” to him and when he found out they were going to be his teammates, he stopped and talked to them. He showed them around and made the incoming freshman feel important.
“That’s how Tejan is,” Empey said. “You know he’s doing that when nobody’s watching because that’s just the kind of person he is. That tells you a lot about his character.”
Through his kindness, hard work and dedication to the team, Koroma has gained the respect of his teammates.
“Tejan is my dude,” Kanuch said. “He is probably one of the greatest people, period, in this world, not even in just football. He takes care of everybody around him both on and off the field.”
Kanuch explained that Koroma helped some of the guys struggling financially to find odd jobs in the summer such as moving mattresses or doing yard work.
“Off the field, Tejan never gets mad,” Kanuch said. “He’s the most calm, happy dude and he gets along with everybody.”
Koroma’s family said that he has always been a calm, positive and well-rounded individual.
“Tejan is very level headed,” Koroma’s mom Jeneh Koroma said. “He does whatever he puts his mind to.”
Jeneh explained that this applies on and off the field. When Koroma was about 10 years old, the family had some financial troubles. Koroma’s father was in Africa and the rest of the family was still in Texas. The family started a paper route in order to make ends meet, and Koroma gave everything to it.
“Tejan got really good at throwing newspapers and would aim and hit the doorstep perfectly,” Jaimmy said. “It was one of those times where you’re at a low point but Tejan always kept his positivity.”
Koroma has kept that positivity in everything he does. He gives his all to his family, his friends and football.
“Tejan is known as ‘the big cat,’” Jeneh said. “When he played little league football, everyone called him ‘big cat’ because they couldn’t put him on the ground.”
The big-cat-turned-Cougar isn’t stopping anytime soon
BYU football wrapped up its first week of fall camp with its fifth practice on Saturday morning.