Manoa Pikula is very athletic, strong and moves very well from side to side. That’s why he was being groomed to play Buck linebacker and had that starting position all but wrapped up until some shakeup across the linebacker board occurred. Outside linebacker Spencer Hadley was moved to the middle, while Manoa Pikula was moved to the outside, where he's been learning from some of BYU's best.
"I feel like this whole move of having me go to the outside has made me have to learn our defense even more," said Pikula. "I think because of that, it's making me even more confident in how I play. There's been an adjustment for me going from the middle to the outside. On the inside you go off of your instincts more and I like that, but at the outside you have other tendencies that you have to rely on like being patient.
"I've been learning from Kyle [Van Noy] and Alani [Fua] how to better play the position, and they've been helping me a lot. Those guys have been coaching me up along with K-Popp [Coach Poppinga], who is a great coach. He's been coaching me up really well, but there are still a lot of things that I need to work on at the outside. I'm just trying to get it down one day at a time."
"Manoa is so athletic and fast that he was really good when he was with us in the middle," said senior middle linebacker Austen Jorgensen. "He's moved to outside linebacker and it's been great to see him do well on the outside. He's just an athlete and you can put him at Will and he'll make plays, or he can come back inside at Buck and he'll do the same. He's just an athletic guy and I think he'll step up to the challenge on the outside."
A redshirt sophomore, Pikula spent a few years learning the middle linebacker position and was even at one point favored to be a starter this season. He admits that the position change has been tough and a bit frustrating at times.
"My goal is to master one part at a time until I feel comfortable with it," Pikula said. "It's all just baby steps and I'm not trying to jump in all at once. It's great having Kyle there because you learn so much from him. I really like seeing how he handles specific plays and it's fun watching to see what he's thinking with our specific calls that we have. It's great seeing how things are done through his example because it just helps you grow so quickly by seeing how things are done at a high level. It's been really good for me."
Pikula's growth as an outside linebacker has been elevated more rapidly due to Van Noy being a mentor for him. Van Noy has taken Pikula under his wing.
"We'll be watching film and he'll just drop knowledge from out of nowhere," said Pikula with a smile. "He's been really helpful for me in that way as well. He understands how frustrating it can be for me to go from knowing everything about one position like Buck linebacker to moving to the outside and it being a whole new thing. He helps me out with a lot of things and, like I said, I get to see the little tendencies from the outside linebacker position put on display by him. I get to see how he switches up his moves and things like that. It's been good."
In limited reps against Middle Tennessee, Pikula recorded five tackles and one sack. That sack was the only one BYU recorded against the Blue Raiders, but Pikula doesn't take credit for it.
"Yeah, that was a lot of fun and I was able to get to their quarterback, but really I shouldn't take the credit for that," Pikula said with a smile. "The credit should go to Kyle for setting me up to get that sack. He crossed over and took an inside lane and that opened things up for me. He came across and took all the attention, so once he did that I was able to go on the outside and had a direct path to the quarterback. It's kind of a little gift he gave to me."
Pikula's three keys to victory
Although Pikula might not get as much playing time against Utah State as he did against Middle Tennessee, he could still see some action. The sophomore linebacker knows BYU's defense has a stiff challenge in containing USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
"There are three things the linebackers have to do," he said. "One thing our linebackers have to do is be very, very disciplined. We have to play assignment-sound football and not try and do too much by doing someone else's assignments. So, we have first be disciplined and everyone has to do their job.
"The second thing is we have to keep Chuckie in the pocket and not let him get outside. He's pretty fast and can run, so we have to make sure we take that part of his game away from him. We have to know our assignments and make sure we execute so he doesn't beat us with his legs.
"Then the last thing I would say is we have to play as a team. We have to swarm around the ball as a unit and not as individuals, because that's what this type of an offense tries to do is get you out of your system and make you play as individuals rather than a team. If we play like we normally do we'll be fine because our defense is really good."