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Better late than never: Sixth-year senior making a big impact on BYU’s injury-riddled defensive line

Former West Jordan High star Alden Tofa was a three-star prep prospect in 2017, but leg and elbow injuries derailed his college football dreams — until now

SHARE Better late than never: Sixth-year senior making a big impact on BYU’s injury-riddled defensive line
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BYU Cougars defensive lineman Alden Tofa (57) celebrates a good play in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. BYU won 30-3.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

When BYU defensive end Alden Tofa broke through Utah State’s offensive line and sacked quarterback Cooper Legas in the Cougars’ eventual 38-26 win over the Aggies on Sept. 29, BYU fans could be forgiven if they had to call up the roster on their phone or check out the game program to learn more about No. 51.

“I would describe my career as a roller coaster, for sure. But I have no regrets. I am glad I stuck through it the whole time.” — BYU defensive end Alden Tofa

Then the 6-foot-4, 277-pound senior from West Jordan High did something similar in the Notre Dame game, tackling an Irish ball-carrier for a six-yard loss in the 28-20 loss at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Who is this guy?

Tofa, 23, freely admits that he’s not exactly a household name for the Cougars, despite being in the program the past six years.

“I haven’t played as much as I would have liked,” he says.

A big reason for that is injuries. A three-star prospect out of high school in 2017, Tofa was rated as the No. 49 defensive end in the country and the No. 5 prospect in Utah. He picked BYU over offers from Utah, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, Colorado, Stanford and others. 

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West Jordan High School’s Alden Tofa signs with BYU during Signing Day event in West Jordan on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In his signing ceremony at WJHS, he donned a BYU cap when the others on the table were Oregon, Utah, and UCLA. He was one of coach Kalani Sitake’s first big gets, and expectations were huge.

But before Tofa arrived at BYU, he suffered a fractured tibia — the larger of the two bones in the lower leg — and had to miss he entire first season in Provo. 

“I think that contributes to me not playing for awhile, having that first year off,” he said. “I couldn’t even practice. I lost the chance to get a lot of experience.”

Tofa played in eight games in 2018, recording four tackles, and it appeared he was going to be a mainstay on BYU’s defensive line for years to come. Then more injuries slowed his progress. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in both of his elbows at separate times, causing him to miss spring ball and a few games in the regular season.

“It was a couple months where I couldn’t even throw a football,” he said. “It was a serious injury. It wasn’t super painful, but there is a lot you can’t do so you are super limited.”

Since then, Tofa has been mostly injury free, aside from the usual assortment of nicks and bruises that he has been able to play through.

He recorded eight tackles in 2020, seven in 2021 (with tackles for loss against Virginia and Idaho State) and has eight this year through six games.

“I would describe my career as a roller coaster, for sure,” he said. “But I have no regrets. I am glad I stuck through it the whole time.”

Tofa said he thought about hanging up the helmet or transferring to another school “a few times in my career,” but is happy he stuck with it. His perseverance is paying off, he said.

West Jordan High also produced one of the best defensive linemen in BYU history, former Atlanta Falcons star Travis Hall.

Tofa is the son of Sam and Mele Fofa. He married Sadie Hodgson last year, graduated last spring in exercise and wellness and would like to become a trainer or physical therapist if pro football doesn’t work out. Yes, he’s been energized by his play and opportunities this season and hasn’t ruled out a shot at the NFL.

“There is nothing to lose with giving it a shot,” he said. “If I can keep trending upwards this year and hopefully finish off on a high note, there is always the possibility.”

Sitake said he’s not surprised that Tofa is finally living up to his billing out of high school, now that he’s as healthy as he’s ever been.

“He takes advantage of the plays that he is in, and is making the most out of it. That’s all we ask him to do, and he has had a great attitude about it, even bringing the younger guys along,” Sitake said. “We have some really great leadership on this team. … Younger guys need to follow Alden’s example and the example of other (veterans) that are on the team.”

Assistant head coach Ed Lamb said Tofa is not only a good example of perseverance, he’s an inspiration to players who don’t immediately get on the field.

“It is neat to see any guy who starts to make a contribution a little bit later in his career, especially Alden,” Lamb said. “He is a likable leader, has always got a smile for everyone. He can pick up the guys around him. It brings a lot to our team when Alden steps up and makes a play.”

The Cougars’ last two games are proof of that.


Cougars on the air

Arkansas (3-3)

at No. 16 BYU (4-2)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT

LaVell Edwards Stadium

Provo, Utah

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM