PROVO — Some football players seem to adjust almost immediately upon returning from two-year mission service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while others never fully adjust at all. Then there's BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who like several others, took a while to adjust to the rigors of playing football again, but appears to be in fine form since returning home in May 2016.
The sophomore linebacker is coming off his first collegiate start during a 49-23 win over Hawaii and acquitted himself quite nicely, starting at the flash linebacker spot that was vacated by Zayne Anderson's season-ending injury. Kaufusi logged seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two pass breakups, performing as well as he has all season.
"It felt good and I felt that I played well, but the whole defense played well, which makes it that much easier," Kaufusi said of his play. "It's a lot of fun when everyone is doing their assignments well and yeah, I think everyone pretty much did what they were supposed to do."
Kaufusi has become a regular contributor playing at outside linebacker this season, and has seen his role increase up to the point where he was called on to start last week and may be called upon to do so again in the coming weeks.
But getting to the point he's at now hasn't been an easy process.
Kaufusi left on his mission service to Tonga straight out of high school weighing in at just 180 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He returned at 230, however, experiencing the extremes of the body transformation that often accompanies many while serving away from home on missions.
"It was an awesome experience," said Kaufusi, who holds Tongan ancestry. "It was sort of like going home in a way. I got to go to the village my family is from and I still have a lot of ancestors still there. So it was incredible."
Coming home and getting back to the grind of playing football took some time, with the Brighton High product opting for a redshirt season in 2016 before earning scant playing time in 2017 as a freshman.
"I honestly haven't felt like I'm truly back until this year," Kaufusi said. "I don't know if it was adjusting to a bigger weight or what, but it's taken some time. I felt like I started to get things down last year, but still didn't feel confident enough in my play. I'm still not where I want to be now, but I definitely feel confident to get out there and contribute."
Kaufusi has trimmed some of his weight and is listed currently at 210, which is a good weight for the flash linebacker spot, a position that is often described as a sort of hybrid safety by BYU defensive coaches.
While starting against the Rainbow Warriors, Kaufusi had the opportunity to play alongside his cousin, Corbin Kaufusi, an experience he relished, much like playing with his younger brother, Jackson Kaufusi, and his other cousin Corbin's brother, Devin Kaufusi.
"Growing up we were all really close, but we never really discussed playing together at the next level, but now that we're all here together — it's just a complete blast and a huge blessing," Isaiah Kaufusi said. "All four of us have always been real close, so having that family connection is just awesome. Having that support and yeah, family is just the best, and I've been blessed with some great relatives."
Indeed, BYU football has been blessed considerably by several who hold the last name Kaufusi, with Isaiah looking to add his name to the role.
"I love it here and hopefully I can continue to improve and help out this team as much as possible," he said.