Defensive tackle Lorenzo “Zo” Fauatea glances around the practice facilities at BYU and sees very few, if any, players who have been in the program as long as he has.

“I am kind of like the sole survivor,” he says.

Fauatea signed with BYU way back in 2017, after originally committing to Oregon State. In Kalani Sitake’s second recruiting cycle, the Cougars beat Utah State and Utah, primarily, for his services.

“They have been mentally draining, more than physically draining. I was in a dark place for quite awhile, but I was able to get out of it and come back.” — BYU defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea on his injuries

Well, the Hunter High product is not only still around, he’s still around and “110% healthy,” he said, for one of the few times in his six seasons in the program.

Others still in the program who were part of that 2017 team include running back Lopini Katoa, cornerback D’Angelo Mandell and defensive back Chaz Ah You (although he will probably redshirt this season). Only safety Hayden Livingston, who joined the program in 2016 before a church mission, has been around longer than those guys.

The reason why Fauatea is still here is simple: injuries.

“They have been mentally draining, more than physically draining,” Fauatea told the Deseret News. “I was in a dark place for quite awhile, but I was able to get out of it and come back.”

The 6-foot-4, 310-pound sixth-year senior is part of a fairly deep defensive line and is battling Gabe Summers, Caden Haws, Josh Larsen and others to be a starter in 2022.

“I am as healthy as I have ever been and am eager to get going and play some football,” he said.

Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki is thrilled to have Fauatea back, for a variety of reasons.

“Lorenzo has been fun to have back,” Tuiaki said Tuesday as fall camp concluded with a 100-play scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium. “He has always been a leader, ever since he was a freshman. He has always had a lot of influence in the D-line room. Now as a senior he comes back, he is a lot bigger than he was before.

BYU defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea celebrates a tackle against Boise State Broncos during an NCAA football game in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

“Zo was playing at 295 early in his career, but now he is over 310,” Tuiaki continued. “I think he has been performing at a high level in fall camp. We are really been pleased with him. He is one we definitely need this year, with our schedule.”

Tuiaki has said that when the Cougars are in a 3-4 alignment, as many as 10 defensive linemen could rotate through and get playing time. Fauatea, who has appeared in 31 games and made 40 tackles, four sacks and forced a fumble, is one of the more versatile DLs in Tuiaki’s room.

“What I am seeing right now, I like what we have. I want to see it in game time. It is a whole another deal,” head coach Kalani Sitake said of the Cougars’ defense. “Some guys step up when the lights are on, and it is live. And some guys have a hard time adjusting.”

Sitake believes Fauatea is one of those “lights are on” kind of guys.

“The expectation I have for myself is just to stay healthy throughout the whole season. That’s the main goal for me — make it through the whole season, play every single game,” Fauatea said. “I just want to show people I have longevity and my body can hold up. That is the main thing for me.”

After redshirting in 2017, Fauatea showed a lot of promise in 2018 and 2019, making 13 tackles in 2018 and 21 in 2019. Then the injury bug bit.

Hard.

During the COVID season of 2020, he fractured his left foot while diving to make a tackle in the Cougars’ 27-20 win over UTSA. He had surgery and sat out the rest of the season.

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He went through spring camp in March 2021 with two herniated discs in his back. When the pain became too much to bear, he had back surgery in July that year. He was back playing eight weeks later in the opener against Arizona, but not for long.

“I came back too early and due to adrenaline and whatnot, and not letting my back heal, it wasn’t good,” he said. “It wasn’t fully healed, and I came back and played against Utah State, and my back was basically hanging by a thread, so that’s how it went, and then I was out the rest of the season in 2021.”

Fauatea didn’t do much on the field last spring, but spent a lot of time during spring practices coaching up his younger teammates and allowing his back to fully heal.

“Now my back is healed, my foot is healed, and I am ready to play some football,” he said. “Everything is going good so far.”

Fauatea said there were times he felt like quitting, but his wife (Chastina) and parents Matthew and Kika kept supporting him and urging him on. Teammates such as Alden Tofa, Lopini Katoa, Joe Tukuafu, Houston Heimuli, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, Keenan Pili and Connor Pay helped him out.

“Keenan and I went to (a doctor) in January of this year and he helped push me. We took car pools down all the way to South Jordan during the offseason to work with him and help get us right,” Fauatea said. “We just motivated each other to get back and help the team again.”