PROVO — It would be different if Joe Tukuafu was playing with an army of strangers, if he was a total outsider and newcomer. Thing is, he is tied in to BYU’s football culture more than he can explain because of his connection to the Kaufusi family.
In his first BYU football camp since leaving East High School after his senior season in 2013, Joe finds himself among Cougar legacy cousins in the Kaufusi family. The Kaufusi clan has dominated BYU rosters longer than any other football family, a stretch lasting four decades. The Lance Reynolds family may be a close second.
Defensive end Devin Kaufusi, younger brother of former stars Bronson and Corbin, and linebacker brothers Jackson and Isaiah are descendants of a migrant Tongan family that left the islands in the 1972 and settled in Utah. It was there that two sons, Steve and Rich, made their mark at South High School and later as BYU star linemen in the ‘80s. Other siblings had great playing careers at Utah.
Here is the Kaufusi/Tukuafu tie-in. Joe Tukuafu’s father Pasa is the brother of Steve Kaufusi’s mother, Eveline Tukuafu Kaufusi. Steve and Pasa actually grew up as brothers. They shared rooms in both Tonga and Salt Lake City when Eveline took in and raised her mother Losaline Tukuafu’s four children, which included Pasa, after Losaline passed away. It was a family composed of 16 children and Steve was the oldest.
Steve and Pasa were early roots that would become two generations of Tongan football players from the Kaufusi/Tukuafu line, and they are spread around at Pac-12, Mountain West and the old WAC. Many in this line have had successful NFL careers, including Will Tukuafu (Oregon, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers).
After high school, Pasa played at Snow College while Steve went to Dixie College. Pasa ended up playing at Utah and Steve went to BYU. “We both wanted to go to BYU, but Pasa wasn’t offered and I was,” said Steve.
“Joe is my first cousin because Pasa is my uncle,” said Steve. It is one of those uncle-nephew relationships where two guys are the same age and were raised as brothers.
“I’m proud of Joe, that he’s got things together,” said Steve. “He is a big guy. He could play three technique as a defensive lineman because of his size. He will really make a contribution on the offense because he is so physical. It is like having an extra offensive lineman lining up on the edge.”
Steve Kaufusi, now in his second year in retirement, works on projects in Tonga and enjoys his role as first husband to his wife, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.
Tukuafu, making his comeback as a tight end, goes up against all the Kaufusi cousins in practice every day.
“So, Steve and I are first cousins. We get together as Tukuafus and Kaufusis all the time, especially on holidays.”
Now, one could add daily warfare to the kindred meeting schedule.
“I love it. I love that they’re making plays,” said Tukuafu. “I always love to see close friends, especially relatives, play ball. This fall I’ve gone up against Isaiah, Jackson and Devin. I think Jackson is having a good camp and I’ve seen a lot of positive things with him with the details he’s worked on. Devin has really gotten bigger and stronger, upped his technique and increased his confidence.”
Tukuafu says Devin, who will play defensive end like his older brothers Bronson and Corbin, is a tough matchup, but he isn’t giving any quarter.
“I think it’s even, just even,” he laughed. “He is really lanky and a great all-around player. I just love going up against the cousins and all the other relatives on this team.”
The wait to hit, catch and block has been a long one for Tukuafu, who is 6-foot-4, 265 pounds.
“I love it. I love it all. I love being here playing for this team and I wouldn’t change anything about my choice to play at this school in this program.” — BYU’s Joe Tukuafu
The long wait has made him hungry and motivated to play, and he’s been carving out playing time behind star Matt Bushman.
“I love it. I love it all. I love being here playing for this team and I wouldn’t change anything about my choice to play at this school in this program.”
Tukuafu said he believes he has good speed. “I have quick feet that are always chopping, moving. I have what I call soft hands, really soft hands. I can catch. I really love to block and get physical on the edge. That is what I really love, is to block.”
That should be music to the ears of offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who likes his tight ends to knock the fillings out of defensive players. Catching balls is a luxury.
It’s also the ticket to get even closer to his bloodlines.