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BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi was ‘shocked’ by cousin Devin’s transfer to Utah, but he’s supportive of the move

Devin’s transfer to Utah is another chapter in the Kaufusi family’s longstanding ties to the rivalry.

BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, left, puts him arm around his brother, Devin Kaufusi, following the Cougars’ 45-10 win over New Mexico State on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in the team’s home finale.
BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, left, puts him arm around his brother, Devin Kaufusi, following the Cougars’ 45-10 win over New Mexico State on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in the team’s home finale.
Brandon Judd, Deseret News

PROVO — The Kaufusi name is almost synonymous with the BYU-Utah rivalry.

That’s because members of the Kaufusi family have played prominent roles in both football programs since the 1980s.

The latest twist came in April, when defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi announced he was transferring from BYU to Utah.

Devin’s older brothers, Bronson and Corbin, starred for the Cougars before him and his dad, Steve, played for BYU and was a longtime assistant coach for the Cougars. Devin’s mother, Michelle, is the current mayor of Provo and a former Cougarette.

His cousins, Isaiah and Jackson Kaufusi, have been his teammates at BYU the past couple of seasons.

What was senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi’s reaction to Devin’s decision to transfer to the archrival program?

“For me, I want to say I was shocked. To me, Devin kind of was ‘the BYU guy,’ you know? And so to see him leave was unfortunate. But he knows that I love him. He knows that in our family, football is so big ... It’s been a huge part of our family,” Isaiah said. “We’ve had cousins go to different schools. I think that we just support each other. Having Devin leave and go to Utah, knowing that was the best thing for him, I can get behind that 100%.

“I really can’t wait for him (to play). He’s got a lot of potential. I’m really excited about him going to Utah,” he continued. “They produce really good D-linemen and they have a great D-line coach and they have a great defensive coordinator and great head coach. I’m just really excited for Dev. It’s all love and he knows that. I’m just excited for him.”

Devin Kaufusi, left, and Corbin Kaufusi warm up prior to the BYU-Washington game in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
Devin Kaufusi, left, and Corbin Kaufusi warm up prior to the BYU-Washington game in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

For the Kaufusis, it’s always family over football.

Petelo and Eveline Kaufusi arrived in the United States from Tonga in 1972. They had six sons and all of them played college football for either BYU or Utah. While Steve and Rich Kaufusi played for the Cougars in the mid-1980s, Jeff, Henry, Doug and Jason Kaufusi played for the Utes from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

Steve Kaufusi was Utah’s defensive line coach from 1995-2001. He left Utah’s staff to become the defensive line coach at BYU in 2002 and he remained on the Cougars’ staff, through three different head coaches, through the 2017 season.

Bronson and Corbin played for their dad and Devin signed with the Cougars in 2015 before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Alpine-German speaking mission.

Devin (6-foot-7, 257 pounds) played for two seasons at BYU, including one with Corbin in 2018. Devin recorded 15 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hurry and two breakups in a Cougars uniform.

“Leaving BYU is one thing for a Kaufusi, but leaving BYU to go to Utah is a whole different animal,” Devin told the Deseret News not long after the announcement. “But when it came down to it with me transferring, Utah was just kind of always the school I had in mind.”

Devin had shoulder surgery after the 2019 season before entering the transfer portal in March.

“BYU has done so much for me and my family and has been a huge blessing for us,” Devin said. “I wouldn’t be where I am at, or my family is at, without BYU.”

No doubt, the rivalry is a big deal to the Kaufusi clan. In the 2018 regular-season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Cougars jumped out to a shocking 27-7 lead late in the third quarter before the Utes scored 28 unanswered points over the final 15:40 of the game to claim an eighth straight win over BYU.

A week before that contest, BYU coach Kalani Sitake had announced that Corbin Kaufusi, a 6-9 senior, would be sidelined for the season and was scheduled to undergo surgery.

However, Corbin decided to play against Utah anyway. He finished with seven tackles and days later, he underwent ankle surgery. Later, he had surgery on his triceps and pinkie finger.

Isaiah Kaufusi laughs with his cousin Devin Kaufusi after BYU opened football practice at the indoor facility in Provo on Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Isaiah Kaufusi laughs with his cousin Devin Kaufusi after BYU opened football practice at the indoor facility in Provo on Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“They said if you could tolerate the pain, then you can (play),” Corbin said after the game. “I just wanted to give back to this team. I love these guys. That’s what playing football is all about — the love of the team and the love of the game. I knew I had more to give.”

Isaiah Kaufusi understands what it’s like to go from red to blue. His dad, Jeff, played at Utah from 1994-96 and Isaiah grew up as a diehard Ute fan before choosing to sign with BYU in 2014.

“I felt like I was guided to that decision. I love Utah and I love everything about the program. My dad loves it still. He has his ties to Utah,” Isaiah said in 2018. “I felt like I was guided here and coach Kalani. He’s taught me a ton. I’m grateful for that switch that I made because I wouldn’t be the man that I am today without Kalani and the program and the school and all the things that come with BYU.”

Jeff Kaufusi supported his son’s decision to play for his alma mater’s rival.

“At first, it was tough. When he played at Utah, he played under coach (Ron McBride). The program now at BYU kind of has the same feel that Mac had up at the U.,” Isaiah said. “We have Kalani and the Polynesian connection. It reminds him of when he was playing at Utah. He loves it. He knows it’s the best thing for us, his boys, to be in a program like that. He’s got his BYU stuff and his Utah stuff. He’s always wearing them.”

Now, with Devin Kaufusi’s transfer, for the first time in nearly 20 years, a Kaufusi will be part of the Utah program. And the Kaufusi family will do what they’ve always done — love and support each other, regardless of whether it’s at Utah or BYU.