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How adversity didn’t deter BYU’s Kavika Fonua from achieving his college football dreams

BYU linebacker Kavika Fonua poses for a photo at the Indoor Training Facility at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PROVO — BYU linebacker Kavika Fonua has looked the part of a seasoned veteran so far this season, belying the tumultuous run he’s had since arriving in Provo back in 2014.

Through three games, the Syracuse High product is the Cougars’ leading tackler with 30 total takedowns while playing primarily at inside linebacker. Furthermore, he’s provided solid pass defense, accounting for an interception and a forced fumble.

It’s the type of play one would expect from a seasoned junior, but considering what the 6-foot, 210-pounder has endured, it makes his play truly remarkable.

Kavika signed with BYU in 2014 after considering an offer from Utah. He saw immediate playing time playing at safety and on special teams, then opted to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Vancouver, Canada, with the promise of more playing time upon his return in 2016.

Upon his return, Fonua was switched to linebacker, where he contributed 24 tackles while working his way back into shape. It was then that coaches opted to switch Fonua to running back, a position he appeared poised to embrace before adversity struck.

“It was my back, hamstring — just a multitude of things,” Fonua said of his string of injuries, which ultimately forced him to the sidelines without recording a single stat in 2017.

It got worse in 2018.

During spring practices that year, Fonua broke his fibula, which forced him into a medical redshirt.

“It just kept being a problem during the season, so I had to get another surgery to take everything out,” Fonua said. “So that was just a drag from all that, but I still had time to watch football and gain experience that way.”

While perhaps forgotten as a potential contributor, Fonua hit the practice field again during spring ball of 2019, resuming his role of playing at running back, facing the prospect of earning his spot from scratch.

“I wasn’t close to being done, but I for sure knew I was a nobody,” Fonua said. “I just faced the fact that I had to go hard in the weight room, and everything behind the scenes, as much as possible for me to be ready.”

But before continuing his work to be a contributor at running back, Cougar coaches opted to throw Fonua yet another curveball, asking him to again switch positions just prior to the 2019 fall practice session. The addition of graduate transfer running backs Ty’Son Williams and Emmanuel Esukpa allowed coaches the luxury of using Fonua to help address what looked to be a thin and inexperienced inside linebacker position.

Kavika Fonau’s career BYU statistics

Year Games played Tackles Solo tackles TFL Int. Int. yards Forced fumbles Pass breakups
Year Games played Tackles Solo tackles TFL Int. Int. yards Forced fumbles Pass breakups
2014 11 14 11 1
2016 13 24 13 1
2018 4
2019 3 30 15 1 1 20 1 1
Totals 29 68 39 3 1 20 1 1
Stats via

Through it all, Fonua kept a positive attitude regarding all the transitions.

“We were looking slim at running back, so I trust the coaches, and whatever he does, so when they changed it and switched me back to linebacker — it’s all fine with me,” Fonua said.

Now removed from his string of injuries, Fonua has risen to become the team’s most consistent performer at inside linebacker.

“Being hurt all the time really sucked, but you just have to learn from all that,” Fonua concluded. “When your number is called you need to step up, and I’m just grateful coaches believe in me and I’ve been able to perform like I have.”