Because only a handful of NFL teams have reached out to him since BYU’s 2020 football season ended with a 49-23 win over Central Florida in the Boca Raton Bowl, former Cougars linebacker, running back and nickel back Kavika Fonua doesn’t expect to hear his name called Thursday, Friday or Saturday when the draft is held in Cleveland, Ohio.
But that doesn’t mean the senior from Syracuse, Utah, is ready to drop his dream of playing professional football. Fonua says he has “lost track” of how many positions he played at BYU, but it was “at least six.”
“All I need is a chance to help me prove that I was a little overlooked during the season,” he said. “If I have to go in as a free agent, or whatever, I just need a shot.”
The shame is that Fonua, who was listed at 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds at BYU’s pro day last month, sacrificed for the good of the team last year, even playing running back for a stretch, so he was unable to match the numbers he put up in 2019.
That year, Fonua led the Cougars in tackles while playing almost exclusively at the linebacker position. He started in 12 of 13 games and made 46 unassisted and 37 assisted tackles, while also picking off two passes.
He was showing up on some NFL draft boards, even though he was a bit older than the typical junior due to missionary service and a string of serious injuries that forced him to redshirt not one, but two seasons.
But Fonua, 26, opted to return in 2020, battling through the pandemic and all because he truly believed the Cougars were going to do some special things. They did, but Fonua wasn’t as involved with the defense as much as he was in 2019, having been moved to a hybrid safety-linebacker position.
His playing time, and numbers, plummeted. Fonua finished with just 11 unassisted and 17 assisted tackles.
After injuries decimated the running backs room, what seems an almost annual occurrence at BYU, Fonua moved over to running back and had 16 carries for 70 yards.
“I was definitely (underutilized) last season,” he said. “I probably got less playing time than most of the other starters.”
The irony is that Fonua agreed to the position switch because he thought it would make him and his versatility more attractive to NFL teams. Whether the plan worked remains to be seen. NFL teams have fewer players to choose from this year, which might help borderline guys such as Fonua, cornerback Chris Wilcox, tight end Matt Bushman, offensive linemen Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring, defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga and receiver Dax Milne.
Fonua said he has heard from “two or three” clubs, but they’ve only wanted updated contact information and other basics. He hasn’t had any Zoom interviews.
“I’m hoping they realize my versatility,” he said. “On a 53-man roster, guys need to learn a lot more positions. Me knowing offense and defense really helps, so you don’t have to spend much time on me. Hopefully coaches know I can understand defenses or offenses really quickly.”
After the season, Fonua moved to Midvale to be closer to his wife’s work. Veronica “Nica” Loo, a BYU student from Oregon who he married on March 6, 2020, just before the pandemic hit, works as an executive assistant in the Salt Lake Valley. Fonua has trained at Pendleton Performance, owned and operated by former BYU LB Jordan Pendleton.
At pro day, Fonua put up 18 bench presses of 225 pounds, then posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump. His vertical tied for the day’s best with former BYU WR Aleva Hifo. His broad jump was third-best behind Hifo and Wilcox.
“There were some things I could have done better, like the (3-cone drill) or the 20-yard shuttle, but I was happy overall,” he said.
When it came time to choose an agent, Fonua went with Ness Mugrabi and David Canter of the DEC Agency because they were “personable guys” and because DEC also represents his cousin, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton. Fonua’s mom and Barton’s mom are sisters.
Fonua’s brother-in-law, former Ute walk-on Karl Williams, was also represented by Canter when he got a shot with the Oakland Raiders in 2014 but didn’t survive the final cuts.
Williams “has helped me a lot and given me some good advice,” Fonua said. “He tells me I have to have a good diet and can’t cheat on meals because I have to be ready for anything, and any camp invites I get.”