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Draft hopeful Khyris Tonga said that he was committed to play for the University of Utah until Kalani Sitake became the head coach for BYU. (Addie Blacker)

BYU football defensive lineman Khyris Tonga has NFL Draft aspirations heading into the 2019 season. There is plenty of hype surrounding the junior, and his improvements since last season have only added to it.

Once upon a time, Tonga committed to play football for the University of Utah. He was set to start his collegiate career directly after high school, but he said this decision was altered following much thought and prayer. Tonga ultimately decided to go on a mission after high school instead of playing for the Utes.

While still in high school, Tonga was set on becoming a Ute because he really respected a certain member of their coaching staff — Kalani Sitake. Fast forward to the conclusion of his mission, and Tonga decided to instead commit to BYU. This decision was largely because of a recent coaching change for the Cougars, a change that made Tonga’s trusted mentor, Kalani Sitake, the head coach of BYU football.

Tonga weighed 350 pounds going into fall camp in 2018. In 2019, Tonga entered fall camp weighing 320 pounds. Tonga said the change was a result of him changing his diet.

With the weight now shed, Tonga said he can be involved in more plays and that his feet are faster. There were times in 2018 when the West Valley native had to be taken out of the game because his stamina wasn’t as strong as it is now. He said that during the 2019 fall camp, he has been able to last longer in drives against the offense — an offensive unit that has been running many no-huddle plays.

“There were crucial moments where (the team) needed me, but I felt tired,” Tonga said. “This whole off-season I trained to lose that weight so I could move better on the field and stay healthy.”

Tonga said he expects that he will be utilized in more plays during the 2019 season as a result of his weight loss. He said the gym has been easier for him, and he feels more energetic than he ever has. The biggest difference he sees between this year and last year is his hands. He said that he was very raw with his positioning last year — like trying to run headfirst through a brick wall without using his hands. His main focus during the 2019 fall camp has been targeting and using his hands better.

Defensive lineman Khyris Tonga has been named to three preseason watch lists — Bronko Nagurski, Outland Trophy and Polynesian player of the year. (Addie Blacker)

Tonga has been listed as a 2020 NFL Draft prospect by multiple news organizations. With one year of eligibility remaining in his college career, Tonga has his sights set on the NFL. If the opportunity presented itself, he said he would leave BYU with a year of remaining eligibility to go to the NFL.

“That’s in the back of my head a lot — to be able to perform at the highest level I can, but it’s not something I think about every single day,” Tonga said. “If there has (been any NFL teams to reach out) it’s been to my parents. I’ve told my parents and coaches to let my parents handle that so I can stay focused.”

Tonga is looking to build on an impressive sophomore campaign that saw him make 30 total tackles — 20 solo and 10 assisted. The first step for Tonga in 2019 will come against a familiar foe on Aug. 29 when he plays the team he once committed to.

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