he weights are all the same, the lifts are the same, nothing is new. But it’s the motivation, the style and the way they go about it that is a change. Personalities are different. They pick and choose what they want to do. Kalani wanted his players stronger and they have designed a program to do that. – Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi
He works behind the scenes as a shadow dweller, a man who shuns the limelight and avoids interviews. He’s a barbell whisperer.
This is Nu'u Tafisi, a quiet, unassuming guy who BYU head coach Kalani Sitake brought in to replace Bronco Mendenhall hire Frank Wintrich.
Whereas Wintrich didn’t mind cameras, Tafisi politely declines. Silence is his public friend.
So, to get a peek at Tafisi and his staff, you have to go to Sitake’s assistant coaches and players to understand what has transpired since January when Sitake turned his team’s preparation for the offseason over to Tafisi. Nobody has spent more time with Cougar football players since the Las Vegas Bowl.
“The new conditioning staff is amazing,” said linebacker Butch Pau'u. “They’re doing a wonderful job. We’ve never had to work so hard physically to where we have to cheer each other up because we are so physically tired.”
This is Tafisi’s first job as the head strength and conditioning coach of a Division I program, but his resume is deep and his experience broad. He served as assistant strength coach at USC, Utah, Boise State and Cal. He played at Mt. San Antonio JC, Cal and made the roster of the Seattle Seahawks.
Said Pau'u, “They’ve done a great job of molding us together, so we would help each other up, because on the field late in a game, we are the only ones that will be there cheering one another to get it done. We started it all in January. They had us run the stadium, which was not fun, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We’ve had crazy workouts, getting up at 6:30 to begin with agility work then the weight room then practices organized by the players.
“Our legs were definitely tired at the end of spring, but now you can see the difference,” said Pau'u. “Everyone is healthy and looks really strong compared to last year. It’s incredible the amount of weight you see the offensive and defensive linemen are putting up now. Even the linebackers are the strongest guys in the group. It’s incredible to see the defensive backs compete with the linebackers when it comes to putting up weights. Everyone is surpassing their personal bests in this program.”
Algernon Brown called Tafisi’s staff “cool guys.” Brown said they know how to have fun with the athletes. “But when it comes time to work, they know how to get guys to work. I don’t know if you can tell, but a lot of the guys are bigger and stronger. They’ve brought in a different mindset. I’d say they’re more fierce, more of a warrior mindset, more passion. I think it will show on the field.”
Brown said he’s the strongest he’s ever been. “I think all my lifts have gone up the past year.”
Reno Mahe, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles following his BYU career, is now Sitake’s running backs coach. “The thing I’ve noticed is how they take care of these players, how they care, how they look out for them and protect them in the process,” Mahe said.
Mahe said Tafisi and his staff are definitely shy, and it isn’t just with the media. “We’ll go to them and invite them to something and they’ll say, ‘No, we’re good.’’’
Unless Sitake makes it a mandatory team deal, they’re in their own cave, according to Mahe. “I love it. I love everything about them because they are the kind of conditioning coaches you want. Kalani outlined what he wanted them to do and they went out and did it. I’m very happy with how my backs look. They’re big and they are strong.”
Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said one member of the staff, Justin McClure, has been part of the conditioning staff before. “The new guys have done a wonderful job in the offseason. They’re former players and know what it’s going to take. They are young guys who know how to communicate, especially with Polynesian players. They have a nice support staff. I love everything they’re doing.”
So, what are they doing?
“Just what conditioning coaches do,” said Kaufusi. “The weights are all the same, the lifts are the same, nothing is new. But it’s the motivation, the style and the way they go about it that is a change. Personalities are different. They pick and choose what they want to do. Kalani wanted his players stronger and they have designed a program to do that.”
Kaufusi said he’s noticed some weight changes, but there is always room to improve.
Mahe said it's nice to see an approach where kids are protected. “There was old school where you’d beat up these kids, take a macho approach and see how hard you could push everyone. Those days are in the past, the NFL learned this. We know so much more about how to train the body now with nutrition, recovery, and keeping bodies healthy and in tune. These guys get it."
Mahe added, “You have to have enough in the tank to play.”
It’s interesting Sitake’s BYU plan called for stronger and bigger players, especially on the offensive and defensive line. Come the opener at Arizona and the visit to Utah, the real measure will be revealed with or without interview time.