A brief perusal of BYU’s spring football roster reveals that many players have switched their number this season. Last year, BYU tight end Jonny Harline sported #89 but this year he will try his luck with #13. Michael Reed traded #84 by for graduating senior Fahu Tahi’s #3. Manase Tonga gave up #42 in favor of #11.
In most cases, players took numbers that were no longer in use by other players. In Ray Hudson’s case, getting the jersey of his choice required getting one of his teammates out of it. Hudson wanted to don #22 in his return to the field after a redshirt year, but safety David Tafuna already had dibbs on it.
As it turns out, Tafuna was not terribly attached to his double-twos, whereas Hudson was inseparably connected to the digits. In fact, Tafuna was hoping to kick his own number up a notch to carry on a family tradition, so Hudson got his jersey of choice without any conflict
“I knew that [Hudson] wanted it,” said Tafuna, “but I wasn’t going to give it to him until he showed me the number 22 that was tattooed across his back, and then I thought, ‘Aw man, I better give it to him now.’ Ray’s a nice guy so I gave it to him. Plus, I wanted the number 23.”
Tafuna took a number that once belonged to his cousin, famous Cougar return man Vai Sikahema, and spared Hudson from needing a new number tattooed across his chest. Tafuna’s family connection to Sikahema comes through David's mother, who is the sister of Via’s mother. While at BYU, Via and his brother, Kapulani, both wore #23.
“I wanted to wear number 23,” said Tafuna. “It’s the number Vai wore, and it’s also the number his younger brother, Kap, wore when they both played at BYU. I wanted to wear their number and try to carry on the family tradition.”
During the 80s, Sikahema was a household name among the Tongan people both on the mainland and back on the islands of Tonga. Although they were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, former USC Trojan Taitusi Latui and Southern Utah University offensive line coach Sam Lutui, both Tongan, grew up BYU fans because of Sikahema’s accomplishments on the field.
Now, Tafuna hope he can have the same kind of impact his cousin Vai had at BYU only on the defensive side of the ball. Tafuna feels the changes to the defensive scheme plays into his strengths as a defender.
“In the old defense there was no true free safety,” said Tafuna. “There was more just three strong safeties, and although I was in the middle I was a big part of the run. Basically now it’s just a more classic defensive backfield.
The Cougar and Katbacks of 2005 had myriad responsibilities. They came to the line aggressively to help with the run, they had to watch deep passing routes, and they had to help the linebackers cover the short routes. This year, there is less pressure on the safeties because they focus primarily on pass coverage. Tafuna likes this style of play because it allows him to use his athleticism to make plays.
“Now we’re more concerned about the deep ball,” said Tafuna. “With this defense we are obviously more concerned with the pass but in a different way. The difference now is, instead of it focusing more on the old Cougarback we focus now more on the Katbacks, so I have a lot less pressure than with those old responsibilities as a Cougarback.
“I can now be an athlete and play the ball and play the routs because right now the defense is basically the Steeler’s defense. Obviously in the Steeler defense, Troy Polamalu is the focus and right now the one who is the focus of the defense is Cole Miyahira. That’s why the focus isn’t on me anymore and there’s less pressure.”
With the defensive scheme more fitted to the talents of the safeties, Tafuna is more comfortable with his new responsibilities. In regards to the cornerback position, Tafuna feels BYU has upgraded there as well. His trust in the fellow defensive backs has grown.
“I think all of them are pretty good,” said Tafuna of the cornerbacks. “Personally, I feel more comfortable playing with guys that have already played. Guys like J-5 [Justin Robinson] and Buchanan, but I also like seeing Brandon Howard out there filling in for J-5. He does a great job.”