"I think [Pikula] has huge potential and upswing," said Bingham High School assistant coach George Pritchard. "He has all the tangible tools and is a guy that has the potential for us to hang our defense on. Our defense is a linebacker driller, gap-controlled type defense. He's a smart kid and it's his first year playing middle. He was always an outside guy, and while we say there shouldn't be that much of a change one way or the other, but sometimes there is. When you're in the middle it's coming from all sides, so you have be a little more conscientious and sound from a technical point. When he gets that down he's going to be a kid that we can hang our defense on. Don't let him come free because it's going to hurt."
"At the beginning of the year I had to kind of get used to it, but now that I'm getting the hang of it better I'm more physical and aggressive," said Pikula. "I like to play physical and if anyone wants to go head-up with me, I'll go head with them. I want to be that enforcer on the field and hit like a hammer. I want to play like a Tongan hammer on the field."
There were many reasons why this "Tongan hammer" decided to commit to BYU. Coming from a religious family were faith is placed above all else, Pikula decided BYU was the right choice.
"The main reason why I committed to BYU is because of how involved the Church is with the program," Pikula said. "I'm Mormon and wanted to keep in touch with my Mormon side. I was afraid that if I went to a different school out of state that I wouldn't be as close to the Church as I am here."
The faith of the Tongan people is a virtue that movie makers and publishers alike have displayed. Pikula's family comes from a small village called Ha'akame on the main island of Tonga, where faith plays a large role in everyday life among the people there. So when he saw and heard his father praying for him that he would make the right choice, it only helped him to realize more clearly what he should do.
"My dad also was a big factor in why I committed to BYU," said Pikula. "He just pushed me and always prayed for me. He prayed for me more than I did and just kept the faith. I was going to commit after my senior year but I just felt I should commit this year on my brother's birthday."
When Pikula first received his scholarship offer from BYU, his father wouldn't let him commit to the Cougar program.
"My dad keeps reminding me that there are a lot of people out there that don't have this opportunity," said Pikula. "He just tells me that there are people out there that don't have these types of opportunities and that I have to be sure to take advantage of this. He didn't want me to commit to BYU when I first got my scholarship offer because he didn't want me to take it for granted but work for it. He wanted me to make sure that I deserved it by working hard for it.
"My dad called me out because I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do. I got a bit overweight and my dad put me on a diet. I had to do what the BYU coaches wanted me to do and I had to run a mile every night while on a diet. I started training really hard to get myself where I needed to be. I couldn't eat after 6:00 or anything. It all paid off though."
Although he was planning on waiting until after his senior year, Pikula decided to make his decision this year for a couple of personal reasons. One of the reasons that he committed when he did was to honor his brother Manu that passed away when Manoa was just a young boy.
"It's a big step in life, so I didn't want to make that decision by myself," said Pikula. "I wanted it to be a special day for me and my family, so I committed on his birthday on September 15th. Manu passed away when I was a little kid, and so I wanted to try and make this a family thing by all of us being there. I have another brother that's out in the mission field right now and another that's leaving soon, so that's another reason why I wanted to do it this year on Manu's birthday. My brother is going to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on his mission, so I wanted to do it with him still here so he could be a part of this. I just wanted my family with me even though I have one brother out on his mission now. I told him about it in a letter, and he said he said a prayer for me. I'm just glad it all went down the way it did."
When Pikula suits up and runs out onto the football field, he has his own tradition that he does to honor his family.
"Whenever I go into a game, I write the number 23 on my arm," said a somber Pikula, referring to the number that his brother Manu used to wear before he passed away. "I do that because of [Manu]. I write the numbers of all my brothers on my arm when I go out onto the field."
"He's very close with his brothers and they got all boys," said Coach Pritchard. "They're a hard-working family and his dad does concrete work, and so all the boys, as you know, go to work and have to do their part."
A BYU fan, Pikula is excited about the opportunity to play at his church's college. He feels BYU's program is doing great things and will only get better and better.
"BYU is doing some great things over there," Pikula said. "If they would have only come out and did what they were supposed to do they would have beaten Florida State. Instead they did what we did against Trinity High School and came out flat and didn't execute."
The one college football player that Pikula most admires is former Bingham High School player and current Cougar outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton.
"It's his first year playing as a linebacker and he's tearing it up out there," said Pikula about Pendleton. "Everyone is talking about him and he's just built. Looking at him just makes you want to work harder in the weight room. He's a really good player and will only get better as time goes on. I want to play like that but in the middle at BYU. I've still got a lot of work to do because I'm still new in the middle, but once I do it's going to be good."