As a senior, Malosi Te’o played less than half a season of football at Kahuku High School, but that didn’t stop him from grinding out 1,300 yards on the ground and willing his team to a state championship. The performance garnered him the conference MVP and all-state honors.
However, after high school Te’o took a two-year break from the rigors of football so he could serve a mission in New York, and found that returning to the game was quite a challenge.
“Coming back off my mission was a bit almost overwhelming experience for me,” recalled Te’o. “One reason is because I’ve never played nor enrolled in any college environment, be it football or school. I had no idea what to expect, so two weeks after my mission I come home and I’m in school already. Two weeks later I’m in spring ball, so I had time to adjust to being home. I was just thrown into the fire.”
Adjusting to a college environment wasn’t the only challenge for Te’o.
“It was a hard start for me coming into a system like BYU where, at times, learning the complications of the offense was kind of tough,” said Te’o. “Once you get the patterns of those schemes it’s a lot easier, but just grasping all the various aspects that is required of a running back [was tough]: the blocking schemes, the running schemes, the passing schemes. and on top of that I had to get back into shape. It was pretty hard for me having to be thrown into that situation so quickly.”
To help shake off the rust accumulated while serving his mission, Te’o got up in the early hours of the morning to be physically overhauled by BYU’s strength and conditioning coach, Coach Omer.
“I just kept pushing myself and getting up early and going to the 6:00 workouts,” Te’o said. “Those workouts are pretty tough workouts and that’s where all the newcomers or the young ones on the team go to work out. You get put back into shape really quickly. That Coach Omer knows what he’s doing. That really helped me a lot in getting me back into shape quickly, and during spring camp that really helped me physically.”
Te’o gives much credit to his position coach Lance Reynolds for his rapid development as a running back.
“He really helped me out a lot as a coach because he’s so patient,” said Te’o of Reynolds. “He’s not a big yeller or a big in-your-face guy who dwells on your mistakes, but he will instruct you and help you to learn what you need to do through information and correcting of mistakes. That is how we’ve been able to learn so fast, and as time has gone on my understanding of the offense has gotten better, my understanding of the blocking schemes has gotten better and my understanding of how the running backs are used within the offense has gotten better.
“One of my main weak points within the position was learning the blocking scheme,” continued Te’o. “If you play running back in this offense you have to be a complete running back and not just someone who can run the ball. Coach Reynolds told me, ‘If you can’t block, you can’t play.’ You have to know how to block within this offense or you won’t see the field.”
During spring camp Te’o blew up on the field, turning corners and outrunning defenders during practice. During fall camp, the focus had turned more towards those that would be starting or playing during the season. Te’o won’t be seeing the field this year, but he feels the reason behind this decision is more about setting him up for future success.
“That had a lot to do with me redshirting this year,” Te’o said. “Coach Reynolds didn’t feel I was ready to play, and that is totally understandable to me. He wants to set me up for success, not for failure, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to prepare myself for success by getting myself physically ready and getting my legs back. On top of that I’m also using this time to become football-smart by knowing all the plays, know all the blocking schemes, know all the passing schemes and to know how to use those things in order to manipulate the defense to get them to do what you want them to do. It’s all coming together for me.”
Now that Te’o is somewhat acclimated to the expectations of Division I football and college life, things have setting down for him a bit. Having married over the summer, life is good for the young Cougar. His attention is fully pointed towards building upon a foundation based on principles he feel will bring him future success.
“In regards to school, everything is just going great for me,” said Te’o with a smile. “I’m married now and don’t have to worry about going out and spend hours on dating. I can now just stay home and spend time with my wife and focus on those things that need to be focused on; focus time towards my wife, school and football. I think that can be a downfall of every athlete [when] they don’t focus on priorities, whether it’s family, religion, school and then football. To me when that foundation isn’t strong, then that’s when you’re not going to be successful, and that’s the focus of this program. Coach Mendenhall always says faith and family first, and so that’s what I’ve been trying to do and it’s really helped me to stay balanced with a more intense focus towards accomplishments.”
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for BYU fans, coaches and the players. Much of what has transpired this season may not have met certain expectations of the fans, and that holds true for the coaches of BYU and their football players as well.
“Anyone outside the program can say, ‘Hey, that’s just too inconsistent’ and ‘What are you doing’ and ‘Something’s got to change,’” Te’o said. “But one thing that I’ve come to understand is that every team and every position at any time can have setbacks or weaknesses and have areas in need of improvement. At different times of the season, those aspects can be exposed and some more than others, but during the weeks of practice we’ve been trying really hard to address those issues. We all want to be effective in terms of running the ball, throwing the ball and defending, and no one [better] understands how hard we work than us players to try and be better. There is no one that takes a loss harder than someone who has spent so much time preparing to win.
“I think the mentality at this point in time is more ground and feet back on earth. At the beginning we beat a third-ranked Oklahoma, and from there we kept continuing to win. Then we had a loss here and another one there, but the mentality of this team is ‘come what may, we’re still going to play.’ We’re going to run what we’re going to run and we’re going to defend what we’re going to defend and do it to the best we can. There is no mentality on this team that since we’ve lost [we’re going to say], ‘So what, we’re done.’ No, football is about learning, improving and having fun. Learning and mastering your position should be fun. Playing and preparing for games should be fun and playing the game should be fun. We have athletes on this team and there is no doubt about that, but as long as we continue to focus on trying to be the best we can be while focusing on the true spirit of football we’ll be successful, win or lose.”
There are whispers in the air that junior running back Harvey Unga may not be coming back for his senior year and will instead move on to the NFL. If that does indeed happen, there is a good chance that Te’o could receive quite a bit of work next season.
“If I’m given that opportunity and chance I would give it my all to make sure that I’m the most productive running back that I can be for this university and for this program,” said a humble Te’o. “To do so is a result of a lot more than just myself but for the fans, the program and who we are not only as a program but as a people. I stand on the shoulders of those that have played here in the past and in the present on this team, and so yes, there is a big responsibility on my shoulders. I can only take things from the leaders that I have now like Harvey, Manase [Tonga] and those in front of me that are great running backs and honor them. I have to try and keep going with what they’re doing and while hopefully bringing my own aspect into the game.”