September 16, 2017
It’s nearly 1,200 miles from Provo to Madison, Wisconsin, so on the surface it wouldn’t be obvious that there would be many ties between BYU and Wisconsin.
But for freshman running back Ula Tolutau and sophomore athlete Austin Kafentzis, Saturday’s game in Provo against the No. 10-ranked Badgers means a little bit more.
“We treat it like any other team, but of course it is special because Kafentzis and I committed there,” Tolutau said earlier in the week. “But you have to be ready to go.”
Both Kafentzis and Tolutau originally signed to play for Wisconsin out of high school. Kafentzis actually spent some time in Madison.
“I originally committed to Coach Gary Andersen, but he left during the dead period when I went up there early,” he said. “I went in with the new coaches, but it wasn’t clicking. It happens everywhere, but I decided it would be in my best interest to leave. That’s how it goes.”
Tolutau left to serve an LDS mission to Bakersfield, Calif., and then decided to transfer to BYU. He had committed to Wisconsin when Andersen was the head coach and said that he had very little contact with the new staff.
Now there is some irony that here they both are at BYU, getting set to face the team they signed with.
“It’s kind of fun,” Kafentzis said. “I started out there. A lot of those guys are close friends and I still talk to them. It’s going to be fun to be able to play against close friends — but then again we also have to come out here and make a statement because we have a lot to improve on.”
Kafentzis has more direct connections to the Badgers than Tolutau, who said he only has a few contacts now.
“I only know like two or three guys now,” Tolutau said. “There is one I talk to on the offensive line from Hawaii. He said that he hoped I did well this week, and I said you, too, and best of luck.”
The freshman running back, however, is expecting an expanded workload heading into the contest against the big, physical defense of Wisconsin.
“It’s a challenge to our offensive line,” Tolutau said. “It starts up front and that will be a challenge. I know they will make the holes. The running backs just have to find them and hit it.”
BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe said Tolutau brings size and ability to his unit.
“He brings an agile 255 pounds,” Mahe said. “There aren’t many guys like that. We’ve just got to get him in position to continue to be successful.”
Tolutau was limited with an injury earlier this season, but said he’s ready to go now.
“Now that I’m cleared to play, I’m definitely seeing more reps,” Tolutau said. “It feels good to be out with my brothers out there.”
Kafentzis has moved around, seeing time at slot receiver, quarterback and running back. He is in the backfield currently, but has also stepped in on the scout team at QB to help the BYU defense prepare for mobile quarterbacks like Utah’s Tyler Huntley.
“I wanted to play,” Kafentzis said. “I was sick of not playing. It’s been a long couple of years, so wherever the coaches needed me, I was willing to do whatever. Being a quarterback helped out a ton because I technically had to know what everyone else was doing.”
Both Tolutau and Kafentzis could potentially play big roles in the BYU offensive attack against the Badgers, particularly considering the unknowns at the quarterback position.
The Cougars know that on both offense and defense they will need to play at a high level to have a chance to upset Wisconsin.
“We’re looking forward to Wisconsin coming to our home this weekend,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “They’re a top 10 team coming to our stadium, so we’ve got to move on, fix the issues and get onto the next opponent, so I’m looking forward to that game. They are big guys, and have a power-run game. It’s going to be a slugfest in the trenches, but we are looking to redeem ourselves from the last two weeks. They are ranked in the top 10 for a reason, so it’ll be great to have them at home.”