BYU linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa says he “cannot wait” to get to Tampa, Florida, on Thursday.
But his excitement has little to do with the Cougars’ 2 p.m. MDT game against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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Tanuvasa is a fifth-year senior from Oregon who transferred to BYU from Navy after his freshman season at the academy. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tampa before playing for Navy.
“This will be our first opportunity to go back and man, I couldn’t be more excited,” Tanuvasa said Tuesday. “I am a little bummed, though. A lot of the people I (kept in touch with) aren’t living there any more, so I won’t be able to see them. But it will be nice being back in the area again.”
Tanuvasa’s parents — Michael and Tamara — will make the trip, but his wife, Kazna, won’t. That’s because Kazna Tanuvasa is a member of Utah Valley University’s volleyball team and will be playing in matches Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Orem. Kazna isn’t just any volleyball player, however. She became UVU’s all-time kills leader last week against Kansas, notching No. 1,601 to surpass Kayli Doxey’s 12-year-old mark.
“She’s the best athlete in the family.” — BYU linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa on his wife, Kazna, the all-time kills leader in UVU volleyball history
“She’s the best athlete in the family,” Pepe often says of his wife, who was known as Kazna Tarawhiti when she prepped at Pleasant Grove High.
When BYU played at South Florida in 2019, a 27-23 Bulls win, Tanuvasa didn’t go because he was sitting out that year due to then-applicable NCAA transfer rules. He didn’t play in BYU’s 35-27 victory over USF last year because he was injured, but he remembers the scouting report.
“We know a lot of transfers came in, and some left. We know they are a great team,” he said. “They have a great head coach, and some great new (coordinators). … We know we are going to have a lot thrown at us.”
As was detailed by the Deseret News during camp, Tanuvasa played defensive end last year but is now star Keenan Pili’s chief backup at middle linebacker.
“Yeah, it has been like riding a bike,” Tanuvasa said of returning to linebacker, the position he played in 2020 before getting injured. “The body is feeling great, and I am losing some of the weight (put on when he moved to DE). I love being under coach (Kevin) Clune, with all his experience.”
He said linebackers such as Pili, Payton Wilgar, Ben Bywater and Jackson Kaufusi have made the transition easier. Those LBs will be responsible for keeping USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon in check. Bohanon guided Baylor to a 38-24 win over BYU last year before transferring to South Florida and winning the starting job.
“He is a great quarterback, as we saw last year,” Tanuvasa said. “He’s a great runner, so it is going to be an awesome challenge, going against him.”
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said the move back to his former position has gone well for Tanuvasa
“He is a guy that has the ability to drop, but also the ability to rush, so Pepe brings us different strengths in different ways. We need him at Mike backer this fall, so that’s why we moved him.”