PROVO — In an instant, during a routine play in practice, everything changed for BYU tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau.
Going into the 2017 football season, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior from Hyrum had been moved from wide receiver during the offseason and was projected to be a star on the Cougar offense.
But three days before the season-opener against Portland State last August, while running a route, he suffered a foot injury.
“It kind of popped,” Laulu-Pututau recalled. “I felt a sharp pain.”
It was diagnosed as a season-ending mid-foot injury known as a Lisfranc fracture.
“Luckily, it didn’t go all the way so I didn’t need surgery,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
But it was bad enough — the injury sidelined him for the entire year, and six months later, he’s patiently working to recover.
“It was rough, man. I’ll tell you what. Three days before our first game. You work all year. If anyone knows football, there’s no offseason. You’re going and going,” Laulu-Pututau said. “To put on 20 pounds and feel good — I felt fast and felt like I was going to be a big part of the offense. It was rough. It really was. It took a few weeks and months to be able to see the positives and get motivated again. I’m more motivated that ever and I’ve overcome that.”
Laulu-Pututau said he has not been cleared to take reps and he's not sure when he’ll be able to play.
“I’m about six-seven months out right now. I’m itching to get back, but you have to play it smart,” he said. “Right now, it’s kind of up in the air. It’s a waiting game. We’re trying to do a mix of pushing me back as fast as I can, but not to where it’s hurting my injury any further. I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back.”
While he’s sidelined, Laulu-Pututau is maintaining a positive attitude and staying involved as much as he can.
“It’s one of those things that comes with the game. I’m trying to stay motivated and stay positive. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just looking to learn the plays, dive into the playbook and understand the offense because I can’t get any live reps. I try to help the other guys out — the tight ends, the backs, whoever I can. I get my feet wet with the offense that way. I’m trying to get ready. I’m trying to stay strong, keep gaining weight, learn the playbook, stay invested and stay with the team. That way when I can get back, I won’t skip a beat. I can just hop in.”
Several current and former BYU players have dealt with a Lisfranc injury over the years — former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury during the season-opener at Nebraska in 2015, for example — but recovery times can vary.
“It’s a case-by-case basis. They’re not all the same. People recover differently. On our team alone, we’ve had six or seven,” Laulu-Pututau said. “Everyone is recovering at a different pace. I feel like mine is recovering very well. I’m not having any lingering pains. Right now, we’re just working on strengthening it. It’s looking good as far as recovery goes.”
While Laulu-Pututau missed the season, Matt Bushman turned in a Freshman All-American season at tight end for the Cougars.
“It was great. To come in his first year and to change levels like that and be able to contribute like he did is a lot of credit to him,” Laulu-Pututau said of Bushman. “He’s a great player. He’s smart. With me going down, it was the next man up. That’s how it is. Hopefully it doesn’t have to be 'next man up' this year. It can be more men. More weapons, instead of injuries. I’m looking forward to getting past this and just playing ball.”
As a sophomore wide receiver, Laulu-Pututau caught 27 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. He switched to tight end last spring and showed promise before his injury.
Laulu-Pututau is hoping he’ll be able to return to the field, and perform at his new position, this fall.
“I’ve always thought that I need the team more than the team needs me,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be a part of it and to have a second chance.”