PROVO — As a freshman in 2018, tight end Hank Tuipulotu was set to make his BYU debut in an upcoming game against Hawaii.

But that week during practice, Tuipulotu suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, ending his season.

Then less than a year later, just as he was turning in an impressive performance during fall camp last August, he tore the ACL in the same knee again, ending another season prematurely. 

For his third year, Tuipulotu, who served in a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Manchester, England, before arriving on campus, is back again and trying to put his injury woes behind him. 

“Yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Every cut, every break is worrisome at first,” said the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder from Fort Mill, South Carolina. “But every rep that I take, I feel more and more confident. I feel good. I had a lot of conversations with coach (Kalani) Sitake and (tight ends) coach (Steve) Clark and we’re being really patient with it. I’m getting minimal reps right now to make sure the wear and tear of fall camp doesn’t get on top of me. But right now, I’m feeling really good and handling the situation day by day.”

Tuipulotu, a former USA Today South Carolina All-State First Team selection, is dealing with patellar tendonitis in his left knee, from which a bone graft was done to help repair his right knee. 

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“I feel like my ACL is strong, my knee is strong,” he said. “It’s just some lasting effects from knee surgery. I definitely feel like my return will be gradual. I don’t want to take chances yet. I definitely think I’ll get there. I’m in no rush to get there. They’re patient with me and they want to see me healthy first and foremost and then they want to see me out on the field.”

Despite being beset by the same injury twice over the past two years, Tuipulotu is grateful for the support he’s received.

“It was tough, of course. Injuries are always hard and doing it twice was a bummer,” he said. “But the guys have been awesome — coach Clark and my teammates. I’ve got a great family situation at home with my wife. People just get unlucky. It’s part of the game. But I think the training staff here has been awesome and have helped me so much.”

Before coming to BYU, Tuipulotu never had any trouble with his knees.

“People say that some families have bad knees. I thought my genetics were good,” he said. “I never had any problems, then it happened back to back, really quick.”

Tuipulotu has strong family ties to BYU football. His dad, Peter, was a Cougar running back from 1987-1991. He rushed 288 times for 1,604 yards and caught 91 passes for 1,052 yards and a total of 17 touchdowns during his career.  

“He’s definitely a rock in my life, a great mentor,” Hank Tuipulotu said of his father, who played for the San Diego Chargers in 1992. His mom, Mo, played basketball for BYU and his uncle, Tom, also played for the Cougar football team.

And Hank Tuipulotu isn’t the only Tuipulotu on the current roster — his younger brothers, Ben and Petey, also play for the Cougars. Ben Tuipulotu is a 6-3, 230-pound freshman tight end that has served a mission to Osorno, Chile, and Petey Tuipulotu is a 6-3, 195-pound true freshman safety. 

“It’s been awesome having them on the team. It’s so cool to see them do their thing,” Hank Tuipulotu said. “They’re doing well. My youngest brother, Petey, is playing on the defense. He gets reps in one-on-ones and in team and it’s cool to see him flying around, making plays. My brother Ben is a tight end. I get the cool opportunity to coach him up.”

Peter Tuipulotu has spent considerable time in Provo with his sons before he recently returned to South Carolina to coach a high school football team. 

“He’s a proud dad. He loves being around. He loves to be with his old teammates here and watch practice,” Hank Tuipulotu said. “We’re going to have a tough time getting him out of Provo.”

Like his teammates, Hank Tuipulotu is excited about the season-opener Sept. 7 at Navy. 

“There’s a lot going on with our team and our country,” he said. “We’re anxious to play those guys and show them some respect. It’s going to be a great opportunity. We’re pumped.”

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Of course, he’s well aware that there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding this college football season. 

“Honestly, I feel like the last two years have been uncertain, the whole time. We’re just taking it day by day. That’s all that we can do,” Tuipulotu said. “We’re working hard every day. When we got the announcement that we’re playing Navy, we were ready to play. If we get the announcement that we’re playing in the spring, we’ll be ready to play then. We’re ready and we’re flexible.”

After two knee injuries, Tuipulotu is just hoping his time to play in a game comes soon.

“It’s been a hard experience but it’s actually gone by fast,” he said. “I’m ready to get it behind me.”

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