“It was a touching moment for me,” said Coach Doman with a somber voice and in a hushed tone. “Right when Famika found out, he was outside the locker room on the phone with his parents. It was pretty touching to see him that way. He was letting them know that he was done. I just feel so bad for him particularly. He’s a great young man and a great football player and we’ll miss him.”
The news not only touched Coach Doman, but it also caught Anae’s brothers on the offensive line by surprise. Solomone Kafu was hit with a double shot to the chin, knowing that he would be the one to go in his place.
“What happened with Famika happened that day and was a surprise to all of us all,” said Kafu. “It was definitely an eye-opening moment for me, knowing that I was going to actually be in there for the first play of the game. It was a learning moment for me that taught me to always be prepared because you just don’t know what will happen.”
So taking over Anae’s spot, Kafu instantly knew what was at stake. BYU couldn’t afford to lose against Utah State. There was a lot riding on a game that would be his first college start.
“For me, I was definitely nervous,” said the big 6-foot-2-inch, 305-pound Tongan with a smile. “Coach came to me and said, ‘Are you ready to get in there?’ It was a natural, nervous kind of feeling, you know? Going against those guys like Al Lapuaho and Bojay Filimoeatu, I had to go in there with the mindset of not being afraid to make mistakes. There was a lot going through my mind and sometimes you just have to go in there and have fun and play the game of football. That’s what I did.”
So how did he do?
“Well, I have a lot to learn still,” said Kafu with a laugh. “I still have a long process to go.”
Well, maybe Kafu’s just being humble, right? BYU ran for 145 yards on Utah State’s defense – just 11 yards less than Wisconsin did – and passed for 235 yards, which was 157 yards more than Wisconsin. Surely, Kafu couldn’t have done too bad for his first start.
“No, I’m being serious,” he maintained. “I have a lot to learn. It was a first game going the full length of a game and that was new to me and also new to my body and to my mind. So, there’s definitely a lot to learn about going the length of the entire game and into the fourth quarter.”
While Kafu might be a little hard on himself, Coach Doman was a little more positive about his young offensive lineman’s performance in his first career start.
“He did so awesome!” said Coach Doman with a smile. “He played so well. He comes off the ball so well and he’s big and strong and so physical. He’s been more assignment-sound than I think I expected or anticipated. We haven’t had a drop-off and he’s done a phenomenal job. With Famika, we feel so bad for him and we miss having him out there.”
So how do Kafu and the offensive line continue to move forward now that Anae’s career has come to an end?
“You know, the one thing that Famika Anae did for us, even though he didn’t get to play that much, was really set the tone for the offensive line,” said Kafu. “He came in and showed us how to play on the one time he got his first chance to start. We have to continue to go out and be like that every play and in every game.”
One thing that helped Kafu perform well was the fact that he was playing alongside senior center Braden Hansen, as well as freshman Ryker Mathews, who has started every game this season.
“That was definitely my comfort zone for me. Having those guys next to me really helped get my confidence up,” said Kafu. “Knowing they were there next to me communicating with me, having been in this situation before, really kept my confidence up. I was going in there for my first game, but I knew that I was going in there surrounded by some veteran and experienced players that would be there to help me if I needed it.”
Kafu also received encouragement from offensive line coach Mark Weber.
“He told me to just play the game of football and just love it,” said Kafu about his position coach. “Sometimes when you’re young you overthink the process and overthink the game. He just said to play the game and know your responsibility and what you’re supposed to do, then get after it.”
This Saturday Kafu will take courage and go out and play his second career start in honor of his brother, teammate, friend and example.
“He’s been a role model for me and for a lot of us in showing us how to play as an o-lineman,” said Kafu. “When I go out there I’m going to step it up and be more physical like Famika was. I’m going to be more like him and that’s something I’m definitely working on because I have lot riding on my shoulders. I’m going to go out and do those things in his honor as best I can to continue the example he gave us.”
As BYU prepares for its next opponent on homecoming, Kafu will take courage from the support of his teammates, and, with the knowledge he gained in his first career start, step out onto the field against the 10th ranked Beavers of Oregon State in honor of Anae. He’ll do so wearing an all-black uniform on national television on ABC.
“I think for me it’s definitely a big thing and I want to go out and do well,” Kafu said with a big smile. “I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s really important for all of us as a team. A win in this game against a top team could possibly move us back into the top 25.
“We have to just treat it like we have in the past, continue to work together and better ourselves individually. It’s another chance for us to become more as one as an offensive line, especially with me being fresh on the o-line. It’s going to be a time for us to improve and go forward, if anything, for the example Famika has given us.”
Go out there and do your thing Kafu. Do it for you brother, friend and teammate whose short but exemplified career may have done much for the culture of this group of linemen.
“Oh I will,” Kafu said with a smile. “We have to.”