BYU Football’s Kavika Fonua finding solace in past adversities
BYU senior linebacker Kavika Fonua has dealt with a number of unexpected changes throughout his six-year college career.
Fonua, a former three-star prospect out of Syracuse High School, moved to the offensive side of the ball to play running back in 2017 after having played linebacker in all 13 games the season prior. Just four games into the season, a series of back and hamstring issues caused Fonua to shut down his season.
Things got worse for Fonua in 2018. Just as the six-foot, 205-pounder was beginning to return to full strength, he broke his fibula during spring practices. Fonua sat out the entirety of the ensuing season on a medical redshirt. In short, Fonua, who had a standout year after switching back to linebacker last season, is no stranger to change or uncertainty.
In the past few months, the BYU football season seemed uncertain as college football teams opted-out of the 2020 season, but Fonua is drawing from his past adversities to remain calm amid the chaos.
“I’ve just learned to focus on the things that I’m in control of,” Fonua said. “All the things that I’ve been wondering about the season, I can’t really dwell on all that. I’ve just been doing my best in my training to get bigger, faster and stronger during this hectic time.”
Fonua’s resiliency was on full display last season. The Syracuse, Utah, native led the Cougar defense with a team-high 83 tackles, including 46 solo stops. Fonua made plays all over the field, recording three pass breakups, one sack, a forced fumble and two key interceptions in wins over Tennessee and Utah State.
Fonua anchored a linebacker group that hauled in 10 of the team’s 15 interceptions. BYU’s linebackers led the nation — as a position group — in picks for much of the 2019 season.
While Fonua credits the team’s training staff and coaches for allowing him to have the bounce-back season that he did, he also acknowledges his family’s encouragement was crucial in getting him through the recovery process. Fonua pointed specifically to the support of his parents and his wife, Veronica, to whom he was married this summer, as critical in his return to full strength.
“I’ve just had a really good support system from my family,” Fonua said. “My parents especially have always been there for me through thick and thin. Whenever I’ve been down, they’ve always helped me push myself. My wife too, she’s always there. The social support I’ve had has really helped me to keep going and make it to my senior season.”
Another reason why Fonua believes he was able to have the standout season that he did last year was his knowledge of the offensive side of the game. Fonua, who played on both sides of the ball throughout most of his high school career, feels his offensive experience has allowed him to get inside the minds of his opponents while playing linebacker.
Although his time spent on BYU’s offense was short-lived, Fonua admits the experience helped him see the flow of the game from a different perspective. During his return to the field last season, Fonua would pick up on signals from opposing offenses that allowed him to disrupt a number of plays.
“I’ve gotten the opportunity now to learn both sides of the ball and see how everything works,” Fonua said. “Learning everything on offense has really made me react better to plays and look out for little cues, things I wouldn’t have known to do if I wouldn’t have played on offense.”
Despite last season’s success, Fonua expects even bigger things of himself this year, if there is a season to be had that is. He now knows what he is capable of and feels he is in the best physical and mental shape of his career.
Fonua also realizes his college playing days won’t last forever. He admits much of his focus throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been on motivating his teammates and making sure they’re also ready to give it their all this season, whenever that may be. He sees the potential in BYU’s younger linebackers, guys like Payton Wilgar, Max Tooley and Jackson Kaufusi, and hopes to leave a lasting impression on them long after he’s gone.
“I’m just focused on getting our team right and making sure everybody knows the plays so we can all hopefully have a good year,” Fonua said. “Having everybody, not just the 11 starters, but having the second and third units ready to step in at any moment and make plays is huge.”
“Also, I’ve been working on teaching everything I’ve learned from the past to the juniors and sophomores,” Fonua added. “I think that they can have a big impact on this football program.”