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After trading basketball for football, BYU's Thomas Shoaf flips from right tackle to left tackle

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake gets doused by Cougars offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf after the Cougars victory over Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake gets doused by Cougars offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf after the Cougars victory over Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Having grown up in the middle of hoops-crazy Indiana, it should come as no surprise that BYU sophomore left tackle Thomas Shoaf loves basketball.

“Basketball’s in my blood and always will be,” said Shoaf, who didn’t start playing football until he was in middle school.

These days, he’s hip-pad deep into football, charged with the responsibility of protecting quarterback Tanner Mangum’s blind side.

“The biggest focus is consistency, and it’s important to give Tanner a good pocket,” Shoaf said.

As a freshman last year, not long after returning home from a mission to Honolulu, Shoaf was called upon to replace an injured Ilui Lapuaho at right tackle, and he ended up starting nine games.

By the end of the year, he was named a Freshman All-American.

Then BYU’s coaches moved Shoaf from right tackle to left tackle.

“As soon as the season ended, we came back for winter workouts and it was, ‘you’re flipping over to the left,’” he recalled. “It wasn’t a surprise. I knew early on.”

Austin Hoyt, a 6-foot-8, 305-pound junior, and Kieffer Longson, a 6-7, 321-pound freshman, are battling for the starting right tackle job in fall camp.

At 6-5, 275 pounds, Shoaf isn’t considered to be heavy enough for the left tackle position.

“I still need to gain quite a bit of weight. It’s a struggle for me. I’m at 275 right now,” Shoaf said. “I’d like to be at 285 this season and get to 295 or 300 for my junior and senior year. I’m just trying to put weight on in general and make sure it’s good weight at the same time.”

What is he eating in order to pack on extra pounds?

“Everything except for the kitchen sink,” he said.

When Shoaf watched football as a youngster growing up in the Hoosier State, it was usually Big Ten schools or Notre Dame.

“Midwest teams were big for me. I followed BYU a little bit here and there. Honestly, I didn’t get into football until eighth grade,” said Shoaf, who also was recruited by Ball State, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Ole Miss, Purdue and Utah. “That’s when I started playing. It was never a big part of my life. Indiana is all about basketball. Basketball was my focus. My high school is about 45 minutes from (Indiana University). We went there for a team camp every summer. I knew IU well … I loved basketball and wanted to keep it that way. Then I went after football. I learned real quick and I’ve had success ever since. … I had the opportunity here (at BYU) and it seemed like the best fit.”

So far, it appears left tackle fits Shoaf well.

“I’m just working day in and day out,” he said. “I was given the opportunity as the only returning tackle. It was kind of handed to me and I’m showing that I deserve it and it’s a spot that I can hold and handle and make sure Tanner can trust us.”

Still, the transition from right to left tackle hasn’t always been smooth.

“I’m left-hand dominant and used to the right side,” Shoaf said. “Give me two or three days to remember to switch. The first couple of days of spring ball, I kept going to the wrong side of the huddle. I kept putting the wrong foot forward, things like that. For the most part, it’s all the same.”

Getting extensive playing time early in his career wasn’t easy for Shoaf, but that experience is paying dividends.

“It was a bit of a roller coaster. Coming off a mission, I wasn’t expecting to be asked to step up to that point. But I was prepared and I was willing and happy to do so,” Shoaf said. “When Lui went down, I stepped up. The big thing for me was the opportunity to see for myself that I could do it. In practice and at the high school level it’s all ‘if, if, when, when.’ But to actually step up, play in a game, watch film afterward and be pleased with how you performed — obviously there’s always room to improve — but to be excited and to be happy about how you did is huge for me. It allowed me to have that confidence going forward. It wasn’t if I could do it, it’s doing it better. It changed my mindset.”

Shoaf is carrying the experience he gained as a freshman into his sophomore campaign and into his new position at left tackle.

“For me, especially in high school, it was always nice to have that experience and that confidence," he said, "in knowing that I know what I am doing, and being able to focus on the little things and get better.”