It’s crazy. There’s nothing really that you can do about it. You just go home and hope your phone doesn’t ring. If your phone rings, it’s not a good thing. – Alani Fua

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Former BYU linebacker Alani Fua is excited to see his former teammates.

When the Cougars open their 2016 season against Arizona on Saturday (8:30 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1), they'll do so at University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and Fua's current employer.

"I’ve got my tickets for Saturday. It’ll be fun. I’ll hopefully get on the sideline and see other players," Fua said Thursday, after the Cardinals beat Denver 38-17 in their preseason finale. "There’s still one year left of guys that I’ve played with. After this year, I won’t really know anyone on the team, so it will be good to see all my old friends this year."

The road to being around for this reunion involves continually proving himself after going undrafted in 2015. Not long after the NFL draft that year, Fua signed a free-agent contract with the Cardinals, but the odds of making the roster for an undrafted rookie aren't high.

That led to a stressful couple days last year as Fua waited to find out if he would make the team's 53-man regular-season active roster. During final cuts, NFL team rosters are trimmed from 75 players to a league-mandated 53, curtailing hundreds of players' dreams in just a few hours. Last year, 16 local ties were cut following the final game of the preseason.

Fua was one of the lucky ones.

"It’s crazy. There’s nothing really that you can do about it. You just go home and hope your phone doesn’t ring. If your phone rings, it’s not a good thing. Like last year, I was waiting all weekend and got no call. I just went in on Monday and went to meetings and I made the team," Fua said.

"It wasn’t fireworks or some huge ordeal, it was just come in and go back to work. It’s different than I expected. I thought it would be more special or something, I don’t know."

By proving himself as a reliable special teamer, though, Fua has made himself a valuable asset. During his rookie season, the former Cougar backer played in all 16 games, mostly on special teams, and totaled seven tackles.

"Anyone can go down and run on kickoff or punt and run down and just be another body down there. Being undrafted, you’ve got to make plays on special teams," he said.

This year, he's seen more playing time on defense during the preseason, while also taking on a larger role with special teams. On Thursday, he started at inside linebacker and played seven defensive snaps while logging 20 snaps on special teams. After missing the first preseason game while dealing with a knee injury, Fua played 66 total defensive snaps and 36 more on special teams the past three weeks while putting up five tackles and a pass deflection.

In addition to the unknown of having a roster spot and earning his way onto the field, Fua's transition to the NFL has involved a change in position. At BYU, he excelled as an outside linebacker and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Now he's lining up at inside linebacker for the Cardinals.

It's taken some adjusting, but Fua, who's listed as the backup to veteran Kevin Minter at inside linebacker, sounds more confident in the transition as his second NFL regular season starts in nine days when Arizona hosts New England on Sept. 11 in primetime.

"In college I played outside (linebacker), and basically I just did what the inside linebackers told me and didn’t really know the rhyme or reason," Fua said. "Now being inside, I feel like I know a lot more about defense and offense. My football IQ in general is just a lot higher now."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knows the versatility he has in Fua. When asked about the depth at Will linebacker, with some injuries at the position, Arians said, "Alani has played there, too, so we can always put Fua over there."

How that will all play out for Fua on a veteran-laden team that is a favorite to make a deep playoff run is unknown, but he's already beaten the odds by sticking around for a year.

And now, Fua is looking forward to whatever happens with his pro career while also being willing to predict a positive outcome for his former teammates against Arizona in his home stadium.

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"Any time Taysom’s involved, there’s wins involved," Fua said.

The former Cougar backer is even confident in long-term BYU success this season.

"As long as Taysom’s healthy, I’m picking BYU every time. And even Tanner. Either way, I’m picking BYU all year."

Email: bjudd@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd

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