He was a key hire.

Not just for BYU’s new defensive coordinator Jay Hill, but for head coach Kalani Sitake.

Sione Po’uha is a guy Sitake tried to hire a long time ago, but the timing was not right.

Lucky for Hill and Sitake, this time was the charm.

“A true leader influences rather than dictates where and when he goes, so that’s the strongest influencer. We have a ton of them on the team. There are tons at different positions.” — BYU defensive line coach Sione Po’uha

The job Po’uha does for BYU’s defensive line, whether it be recruiting, teaching, inspiring or just plain coaching will go a long way in determining how successful Hill’s defense plays this season.

Po’uha is an interesting guy. He is an NFL veteran. He coached at his alma mater Utah. He’s exactly the kind of personality BYU looks for in a leader of young men. He’s got great perspective. He knows how to push hard and how to love. In short, he is trusted and respected.

When Po’uha talks about a technique or a drill, he can sell it because he’s played in the league. He can explain the hows and the whys. Players listen.

This week he spoke to the media about toughness, being a leader, and what he expects out of BYU’s interior defensive linemen — his guys.  

He believes he has six solid players right now and he will use all of them in games.

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When he talks football, you feel his passion.

It was interesting how he handled the question of who was the leader in his defensive tackle room.

Here’s his response:

“The best leader and the thing about leadership is the guy who can lead himself and handle himself as a player is the best kind of leader. 

“For instance, if there’s a situation where tempers flare in practice or a game — if a guy can quickly put it in perspective and trigger a principle (that it could result in a penalty or ejection) and he walks away — that’s a leader.

“A true leader influences rather than dictates where and when he goes, so that’s the strongest influencer. We have a ton of them on the team. There are tons at different positions.”

Po’uha used the analogy of a farmer. “Who’s able to take care of their farm? Their farm looks so good that everybody else wants to take care of their own farms.”

OK. 

That might mean big Caden Haws is a great farmer.

Right?

Well, the way Po’uha sees it, you can’t really pin him down on naming names in the middle of fall camp because there are so many personalities who are at different levels of skill, knowledge and experience.  

BYU players gang tackle a ball carrier during fall drills in Provo earlier this month. | BYU Photo

Their respective levels of readiness is a work in progress, like on an assembly line, and the product isn’t at the end where you label and box it yet.

So, don’t be labeling the product in early August.

“Everybody’s at different levels, in different seasons, right? Watermelons are grown in December, right? And so here comes the December harvest. Right? And so each harvest is different, everybody is at different phases, and it’s hard to name names because sometimes the public doesn’t understand the concept by which we’re judging. We’re measuring, making the measurements and so everybody in their own way is a leader in themselves.”

This is the slickest explanation of refusing to peg favorites to start or lead as I’ve heard in some time.

The time to harvest and yap about starters hasn’t arrived.

The six players Po’uha says will play if the Cougars kicked off today would be Haws and John Nelson; Jackson Cravens, a transfer from Boise State who had 13 starts for the Broncos; Atunaisa Mahe, who returns for his senior year and is one of the strongest athletes on the team; and Bruce Mitchell and Joshua Singh, who were freshmen last year.

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Po’uha is awaiting clearance of Snow College All-American David Latu and Wyatt Dawe, a transfer from Southern Utah, who will also be in the mix.

Haws told reporters earlier this week that this, his fifth fall camp, is the most physical he’s been a part of as a BYU player.

“We’re way further ahead than where we’ve been in years past. I’m really happy with where the defensive tackles are at. I’m really excited about our coaches, the scheme and everybody’s looked good so far.”

A real key for the group is to add depth, and when Latu is approved to get on the field, it will be a big deal. He is a very talented and physical player — just what Po’uha needs in his group in order to wreak the havoc Hill wants out of BYU’s defensive front.

Look for that news.

When it comes, the harvest might just be ripe.

Last year under a different defensive coaching staff BYU ranked 130th of 131 teams in sacks with 15 for the season.

That number was an embarrassment.

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The NCAA leader was Louisville with 50. Utah ranked 14th with 41 sacks.

I’m predicting under Hill, Po’uha, Kelly Poppinga, Justin Ena and Jernaro Gilford, this defense will at the very least double its total from a year ago. 

They’ll get 31.

If Latu is on the roster, it goes to 35.

New York Jets’ defensive lineman Sione Po’uha in action against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in Seattle. Having had a distinguished NFL career, BYU players respect and trust what he has to impart as the Cougars’ defensive line coach. | Elaine Thompson, Associated Press
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