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BYU football: Tonga working to take his play to a new level

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PROVO — Khyiris Tonga ended his spring practice session much like he started, which could provide big dividends for the mammoth BYU defensive tackle and for the defense in general.

Since arriving at BYU for the 2017 season, the 6-foot-4, 330 pound defensive lineman has proven an extraordinary talent, capable of a lot of disruption playing at one of the two defensive tackle spots in BYU's 4-3 base defense. He's fought through some injury issues but has largely performed at a high level throughout the past two seasons.

For the 2019 season, however, Tonga wants to take his play to a new level.

"I have to get better. We all have to get better and that's what this spring practice has been about for me and my teammates," Tonga said. "I definitely feel better than I did last fall already and it's now just about keeping it going and becoming the best lineman I know I can be."

After serving as an immediate impact player as a freshman, Tonga was hampered a bit by injury leading up to the 2018 season. The following spring and then the fall practice sessions saw the Granger High School product as a limited participant, at best, while oftentimes he was seen jogging around the practice field, working his way back into playing shape.

I have to get better. We all have to get better and that’s what this spring practice has been about for me and my teammates – BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga

BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki made no secret of the fact that he wanted Tonga to be farther along than he was during August practices last year, with conversations between the two changing things.

"Coach definitely wanted me to be more active this spring, and I really wanted it for myself," Tonga said. "So it's been real good being out there every day and I feel great. I feel the best I have since I started playing here."

The first day of spring practices had Tonga taking a full set of reps and then ending in the same fashion despite being a proven veteran starter with little to prove to coaches with regards to production. But for Tonga, it's all about reaching a new level with his individual play and helping provide improvement for the entire defense.

"It's all about getting ready for Utah. That's our focus right now. It's all about being our absolute best for that game," Tonga said. "We have them the first game this year and we got to get that one. So everything we do here in practices and off the field is to prepare for that, and then what's after."

As for the specifics of his personal development, Tonga cites a current weight of 330 pounds, a mark relatively trim for him, although he wants to get it even lower.

"I want to get to 320 pounds. That's what the coaches want to see me at and I'll get there," Tonga said. "It will make me quicker and faster out there, and yeah, anyway I can improve my play is what I'm all about."

As mentioned, Tonga has proven completely dominant at times during the past two seasons, but his goal is more consistency.

"I don't ever want to come off the field and I don't ever want to have to take breaks and maybe not go as hard during certain plays," Tonga said. "I owe it to the guys to be at my best all the time. I don't ever want to come off the field. I'm ready to go and I want to have my best season yet."