‘Just a football player’: BYU hires Pokaiaua Haunga proving his athlete label with Timpview


Timpview’s Pokaiaua Haunga runs behind a blocker against Lone Peak during the Knights’ 44-31 win over Timpview on Friday August 13, 2021 at Highland. Haunga, a BYU clerk, is the No. 11-ranked rookie at Utah by 247Sports in the Class of 2023. (Sean Walker,

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PROVO — Given the choice of defining a player’s role on the team, Timpview freshman head coach Donny Atuaia admits he’s puzzled.

Is Pokaiaua Haunga a wide receiver or a defensive back? Cornerback or safety, maybe a flash linebacker? Can he play running back or in the slot machine?

The answer, of course, for the BYU commit listed at 6 feet in the game’s program is: Yes. All the foregoing.

“We listed him as one of three who’s just ‘athlete,’ because we know he’s going to be all over the court,” Atuaia said after Game 1 of his Polynesian Bowl All-Star. “We kind of felt it was time to hold him back after he got a bit upset. And that’s just being an athlete; we have to figure out how to handle him better.

“It’s a deadly weapon for us. It’s one thing as coaches that we have to understand (how to use it). I think we overdid it a bit in the first half, but we hope to be better as coaches.”

Given the “athlete” label early in his recruiting process — Haunga was considered a potential defensive back, running back and wide receiver for the Cougars, his main recruiter being defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki — the athlete is not didn’t run away. .

Rather, it is what drives him to improve every day. He wants to play catcher at the next level; but if there is another position where he may be more valuable, he is also all-in.

“I never really thought about the word ‘athlete’. I’m just a football player,” said Haunga, whose fourth-ranked Thunderbirds open week three of the season Friday at Crimson Cliffs. “I prefer to be an attacking player. But this year we want to do everything we can to win, and that’s the best I can do to help the team.”

Haunga averaged 101.8 yards per game last year for the Thunderbirds en route to the 5A state semifinals. He was the team’s first receiver under quarterback Liu Aumavae, who signed with San Diego State on offers from BYU and Central Michigan.

With two quarterbacks at junior Quezon Villa and rookie Helaman Casuga now in charge, Haunga is poised to top his season for 1,200 yards this year. But he also wants to do more, as any two-way athlete playing both attack and defense will tell you.

In the first game of his senior season against defending champion 6A Lone Peak, Haunga had a touchdown, an interception and a sack – all before halftime – as the Thunderbirds cruised to a 31-10 win over the Knights . In two games, including a 43-14 win over Herriman, Haunga has been a force for his team.

“The only reason I do what I do is because my teammates do their jobs too,” Haunga said. “It allows me to make a game.

“It’s all about confidence. I did a bit on my own, like with the bag. But I knew what Lone Peak was going to do, same with the interception.”

Playing on offense that also includes BYU targets Spencer Fano and Tei Nacua, as well as on defense with fellow BYU rookie Siale Esera, Haunga is here to prove he can do a bit of everything. Truth be told, he also had to strengthen his defense, admits Atuaia.

Timpview's Pokai Haunga (88) and Puna Alatini (48) tease Vave Adolpho (6) after breaking up a pass against Salem Hills during a 5A Football State Semifinal game at Cedar Valley High School at Eagle Mountain on Friday, November 13, 2020.
Timpview’s Pokai Haunga (88) and Puna Alatini (48) tease Vave Adolpho (6) after breaking up a pass against Salem Hills during a 5A Football State Semifinal game at Cedar Valley High School at Eagle Mountain on Friday, November 13, 2020 (Photo: Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

The Thunderbirds had a key linebacker from last year’s team in Hezekiah Anahu-Ambrosio, a former BYU rookie who returned home to Hawaii shortly after committing to Nevada.

Ambrosioh averaged 7.8 tackles per game over 12 games in 2021 for 94 total saves, including 21 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Haunga isn’t necessarily the same kind of pass-rushing demon as his former teammate, but he is able to occasionally go off-script and make a big play (for which he later apologized to his coaches after a key sack in the first half against Solitary Peak).

Again, it comes down to his teammates: if Haunga feels like the defense has it all covered, he’s more than capable of using his athleticism to make a big play.

“We’ve got a new defense this year, and it’s been a lot of fun,” said Huanga, who played linebacker and safety on the Timpview defense. “Everybody has that bond; we’re a lot closer and we’re a lot more disciplined.

“A lot of the time, we all know what it’s like to lose. And we want to win. Our secondary is locked, the linebackers move side to side quickly, and our D-line is smart and disciplined. “

If nothing else, this will provide some great learning moments for Haunga as he prepares for that next level. The eldest committed to BYU last January almost immediately after receiving an offer – it took him “about 10 minutes” to decide on a commitment, he jokes. The 247Sports three-star prospect, who ranks No. 7 at Utah State, has remained committed despite interest from Dartmouth, Nevada, Washington State and Utah State. Utah.

But Haunga knows he has a place at BYU, even if the place on the court is as much to be determined as ATH.

“They were the ones who showed the most love,” he said.

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has been covering BYU for since 2015, while blending prep sports, education and whatever his editors throw at him.

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