PROVO — Since courageously playing injured in BYU’s heartbreaking loss at Utah last November, former Cougar defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi has undergone three surgeries and spent months rehabbing.
With the NFL draft starting Thursday night, Kaufusi said he feels “100 percent” healthy and is looking forward to embarking on his professional career.
“I’m excited to figure out what my next step is and the ability to keep playing,” said Kaufusi, who recorded 154 tackles and 17 sacks during his three-year BYU football career. “Because of the surgeries, it’s not the normal path that I thought I would take to prepare for the draft. But it’s been a good path.”
Kaufusi is among this year's BYU draft hopefuls, including linebacker Sione Takitaki, who was projected to be selected as high as the third round, according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
Former Cougars that could sign undrafted free agent contracts this weekend include running backs Squally Canada and Matt Hadley; fullback Brayden El-Bakri; quarterback Tanner Mangum; wide receiver Dylan Collie; and defensive back Michael Shelton.
“We have a bunch of guys chasing the dream right now. I’ve gotten to love them so much, especially Sione,” Kaufusi said. “He and I played on the defensive line together a couple of years ago. I love that dude. I’m excited for him and everyone else that will have the opportunity to play in the NFL.”
For Kaufusi, surgeries resulting from injuries — ankle, triceps and pinkie finger — sustained last season prevented him from potentially participating in the NFL combine, like Takitaki did, and pro day, which hurt his draft stock.
“That definitely played a major factor. I had a pretty good season and I was happy with it. When the injuries came, I didn’t get the same hype as other people,” Kaufusi said. “If I would have been healthy through that whole process it would have helped my draft stock. But I’m grateful because everything happens for a reason and I think it will help me become better.”
Because of his size, the 6-foot-9, 280-pound Kaufusi is an intriguing prospect.
“If a team wanted me to play a different position, I think I could definitely do that for them. I could play offensive line or tight end. But I love playing defensive end,” he said. “I look at players like Calais Campbell (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati Bengals). They’re able to do great things with their length and their size. They’re pretty similar to me. Defensive end is where my heart is but I’m willing to do whatever.”
Among the teams that have shown the most interest in Kaufusi include the Rams, Chargers, Browns, Eagles, Broncos, Raiders and Falcons.
“I’ve talked to a lot of teams. They say a lot of good things but you never know what’s going to happen,” Kaufusi said. “My agent is pretty positive about things. Everything will work out, one way or another. But it’s a waiting game right now.”
BYU coaches used Kaufusi in multiple ways during his career. For example, in last year’s season opener, he was used as a “spy,” assigned to focus on Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate. Kaufusi's presence limited Tate's ability to make big plays.
“I was able to showcase a lot of skills that I didn’t even know that I had because the coaches trusted me in that way. It’s easy to get locked in with a certain skillset,” Kaufusi said. “To be able to play other positions, it showed that if needed, I can do other things. They can say, ‘He’s a big dude but he can move pretty well and they used him in this situation.’ It definitely helped my development.”
Of course, Kaufusi has leaned heavily on the advice and support of his older brother, Bronson, a former Cougar who was taken in the third round of the 2016 draft by the Baltimore Ravens and now plays with the New York Jets.
“Bronson’s been my mentor and go-to person. I talk to him every day,” Corbin said. “He was home for Easter and we had a good conversation. He and I kind of feed off each other. When he was getting ready for the draft, I felt nervous and excited for him. Now, he’s excited for me and where I'm going.”
Kaufusi plans to spend the weekend with his family.
“Before Bronson was drafted, we were watching the draft on TV and we all got kind of bored so we went to eat some food,” Corbin recalled. “While we were eating, he got the phone call (about being drafted). I’ll just be with my family and keep myself busy.”
What are his expectations for this weekend?
“If I’m drafted, I’ll probably go later in the draft. If you go as a free agent, you get to choose where you go and choose your situation,” he said. “I don’t have much of an expectation for either but I’m just excited to figure out which one and where.”
As a kid, Corbin wasn’t harboring dreams of playing in the NFL.
“Surprisingly, no, I wasn't. Not because I didn’t like the NFL. When I was younger, I was a late bloomer. Everyone knew Bronson was going to play in the NFL,” he said. “That was his dream. I was just trying to get to college without having to pay for it. It was one of those things that where once it became an actual option, it became a dream. I never thought it would come to fruition."
Now that draft week has arrived, Corbin Kaufusi can't wait for his NFL opportunity.