PROVO — Having spent a year away from football, Manase Tonga is looking forward to rejoining the BYU Cougars.
"I miss it. I miss it real bad," the senior fullback told the Deseret News during Pro Day last week. "Everything about BYU and football, I've missed it all. I can't wait to get back to work."
Since being ruled academically ineligible last spring, Tonga has redshirted and has been taking classes at Utah Valley University. As long as he completes his school work at UVU over the next couple of weeks, the plan is for him to re-enroll at BYU in time for spring term, after the conclusion of spring drills.
"Right now, I'm just trying to take care of some classes," he said. "As soon as the semester's over, I'll be here in (late) April. I'll be enrolled in the spring and start working out with the team. I've got to take care of business first."
Tonga was the Cougars' second-leading rusher in 2007, gaining 305 yards on 88 carries and scoring eight touchdowns. Regarded as a solid blocker, Tonga also caught 27 passes for 248 yards.
Last year, Fui Vakapuna took over for Tonga, rushing 54 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns and catching 10 passes for 69 yards and one TD.
Tonga acknowledges he has a ways to go before he's ready to play again.
"I've been doing just enough so I don't get too out of shape," he said. "I don't want to stress myself out too much because I've got to take care of school first. For the most part, I try to work out three times a week. Light stuff, mainly to maintain my weight. Right now, I just want to step in and pick up where everybody left off. I've been gone for a year, so it will take a while to get everything back and get everything registered in my mind. But I think I'll be all right."
It was difficult, Tonga said, seeing his teammates play last fall and not being able to be on the field.
"It was tough to watch, especially knowing the character of the players on the team. I played with them for a couple of years, so I know what they are capable of and what they're able and willing to do. At the end of the day, the losses they had were hard to watch. I watched every game. The team was looking good, then tapered off toward the end. But I can't say what happened. I don't know what caused it."
Over the past year, Tonga said he's learned important lessons.
"I think I've grown a lot. I've matured as far as taking care of business on and off the field and getting my priorities straight," he said. "Honestly, I think (sitting out) was a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to think about what's really important. I have a 7-month-old (baby) right now. I'm able to hang out with him. It's a lot of fun."