COUGAR TRACKS

Khyiris Tonga’s Parents Played Large Role In His Return To BYU For Senior Year

Jan 13, 2020, 1:24 PM | Updated: 1:49 pm
BYU's Khyiris Tonga warms up before a game with the University of South Florida in Tampa. (Robert W...
BYU's Khyiris Tonga warms up before a game with the University of South Florida in Tampa. (Robert W. Grover for the Deseret News)
(Robert W. Grover for the Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU nose guard Khyiris Tonga has always made it clear that his goal is to play in the National Football League, but in order to achieve that goal, Tonga needed one more year with the Cougar football program

Back on New Year’s Eve, Tonga announced that he would be returning to BYU for one more season in 2020. It was in some ways a surprise because of Tonga’s unique athleticism for a man at his 6-4, 321-pound size. If you don’t think a massive man like Tonga can be athletic, just know he ran a 4.91 40-yard dash this past June. He’s got speed and he had scouts intrigued.

But more needs to be done from Tonga to achieve his goal.

Tonga’s decision to return was a welcomed announcement by the BYU football program and their fans as Tonga has the potential to be the face of the program and help navigate what looks to be another challenging independent schedule.

What was the main reason for Tonga making the decision to return to Provo instead of a potential payday in the NFL Draft?

“The main thing was my parents,” said Tonga to KSL’s Cougar Sports Saturday. “It was a tough decision but my dad helped me realize what I came here for and it was to get a degree. I owe it to Coach Kalani and Coach Tuiaki, especially those two, just for being there ever since I was 15. It was just the right thing to do. I feel like I need to give it my all one more year and do my best to win games.”

Kalani Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki have been close to Khyiris since he was a young tight end at Granger High School and they’ve seen Tonga grow up into a great man and an excellent football player. On the football side, there’s still room for Tonga to improve and help build up his draft stock.

“They [Sitake & Tuiaki] are super supporting and they’ve always been supportive of me no matter what I chose to do,” said Tonga. “They were pretty happy and stoked about it and I was just really excited to just let it sink in and have the chance to come back as a senior. I can’t believe I’m a senior, but I’m so excited and I’m ready to work.”

Typically players that are mulling over a jump to the NFL after a junior season get feedback from NFL scouts or personnel to gauge where they might be selected in the Draft. Tonga said he didn’t receive much feedback but a majority of the intel he received was relayed back to him from the BYU coaching staff.

“A lot of them said this [returning for his senior year] would be a good opportunity to work on what I need to work on,” Tonga said.

One of those areas Tonga is working on is availability in games. There were times throughout BYU’s 7-6 2019 campaign that on a critical third down for the BYU defense, Tonga wasn’t able to play that down. During the season, Tonga said he would sometimes get tired. He knows that won’t help his draft stock and chances of getting into the NFL.

“Just being able to be on the field hopefully all game and if not all game, but the majority of it,” said Tonga to Cougar Sports Saturday. “Just being well-conditioned and strong and being dominant consistently. That’s something I’m going to work on super hard this off-season and hopefully, it pays off.”

Winter conditioning started on Monday for BYU and Tonga, who has piled up 94 tackles and five sacks in his career begin preparations for spring football and ultimately the final season of his career in Provo.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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