Last year at about this time, defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo was practicing in Los Angeles with USC’s football team while former Trojan linebacker Uona Kaveinga was practicing here in Provo, waiting patiently for a chance to show fans what he was capable of.
Both men will receive that chance this season as members of the BYU football team.
With the loss of leader Andrew Rich and other key defensive players, some people have wondered how BYU’s defense would fare this season with only seven returning starters. The answer seems to come partially in the form of the two strong transfers from USC. At 5-foot-11, 255 pounds and 6-1, 310, respectively, Kaveinga and Fangupo are expected to be two of the defense’s high-impact players this season.
Although senior Fangupo was out for the majority of last season with an ankle injury, he had promising 2008 and 2009 seasons at Mount San Antonio JC and USC, recording 49 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He is anticipated to make a big splash during this season’s return.
Kaveinga, a junior, has been receiving lots of praise from his coaches on his athleticism and determination on the practice field. Although the NCAA deemed him ineligible to play last season, he has reportedly been practicing hard and making a spot for himself on the team. Inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell said Kaveinga has emerged as a force in the middle of the BYU defense.
“He’s already been making a great impact not only on the defense but on our team as a leader,” Tidwell said. “He’s had a fantastic offseason. When I see the physical transformation he’s made in the past few months, I can tell he’s really worked hard. We anticipate Uona to make a big impact on our defense.”
Mendenhall has also been singing Kaveinga’s praises. He said nobody is certain what Kaveinga is going to say or do, but they know he’ll do it “a million miles an hour” and have fun doing it. Kaveinga’s intensity is expected to help the defense both this season and next season.
Kaveinga revealed exactly what it is that keeps him so driven.
“My motivation is a daily thing. I re-motivate myself each and every day to be the best I can be and control what I can control,” Kaveinga said. “People are hoping that we’ll go undefeated so we can get a shot at a BCS title game, but if we just take it a day at a time and be the best we can be, good things will happen.”
Expect to see Kaveinga start as middle linebacker and Fangupo contribute on the defensive line. Mendenhall said he is excited to see both play, and especially excited to see how Kaveinga steps up to a leadership role.
“He belongs here, he’s a fantastic fit and he’s a great football player,” Mendenhall said. “I can’t wait for the fans to watch him play.”