It’s been a long road for senior Manase Tonga. However, a road laden with many bumps and obstacles along the way will have run its course when the final whistle of the Las Vegas bowl has blown. It’s a moment that will bring conflicting emotions for the Tongan fullback who came to BYU from San Mateo, California in 2005.
“It’s going to be bittersweet for me,” said a somber Tonga. “I’m happy that I’ll be able to play in the game but I’m sad this is going to be my last game as a Cougar. We’re going to do all that we can to make it the most memorable game, most memorable trip and the most memorable experience we can have together as seniors. This is one last chance for us to represent this university, our families and who we are. We want to take advantage of every opportunity that we have while we are out there.”
It doesn't quite yet feel like the end of the road for Tonga.
“It hasn’t sunken in yet and even though we’ll be down there it still wont until we actually start playing,” said Tonga. “It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to play in a bowl game because I wasn’t here for the last one.“
Being that this is his last bowl game, will it be his most memorable one?
“Well, I don’t know yet,” Tonga said. “I guess I’ll have to wait and see because I’ve been a part of some great bowl games in the past. I’ve been a part of some really tough games, but being there among all the BYU fans that show up there to support us has made all of our experiences there great. All of them have been pretty comparable as far as their level of excitement that we’ve experienced there.”
Tonga was ineligible last year due to academic reasons, and wasn’t able to help the Cougars in their loss to the Wildcats of Arizona while working on his grades at Utah Valley Community College to get back to BYU.
“I wasn’t able to be a part of the experience last year, but it will be good to have the chance to play against Oregon State,“ Tonga recalled. “In looking at this Oregon State team, they’re a really competitive team and are really good, and so it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought game.”
One fun aspect Tonga remembers about the Las Vegas Bowl is how well they are treated by the sponsors and the many gifts that they receive.
“The gifts are all really nice and they really take care of you at the Las Vegas Bowl game,” said Tonga. “It’s a lot of fun to see what things you get when you go there. It really makes it a lot of fun.”
One of the Las Vegas Bowls Tonga played in was the 38-8 victory over Oregon in 2006, when he played alongside the likes of Curtis Brown, Jonny Harline and John Beck. In fact, in that game Tonga was on the receiving end John Beck's last touchdown pass as a Cougar.
“That last past during that game is just another experience that I’ve put in my book,“ said Tonga. “The game against Oregon was obviously a fun one that we played in. The experiences and the camaraderie you have and mingling with the players from the other teams and getting to know them a little bit is all just a fun experience.
“I have to get out there and leave everything out on the field one last time. I have to. I have to. Either they carry me out or that’s it, because I’m going to give it my all because this is my last chance. This is my last time and I‘ve had a lot of great experiences here at BYU.”
Following his return from serving a mission, Tonga returned to the University of Utah - a school he had committed to play for out of high school - to find that he didn’t have a scholarship waiting for him. BYU gave him the opportunity to continue his football career and further his education.
“Coming out of high school and then going on a mission, I could have lost the opportunity to play college football,” said Tonga. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I have to be here at BYU and the Las Vegas Bowl.”
Another reason why Tonga wants to leave all he’s got on the field is because he wants to pay back, in some small way, what he’s gained by being a part of the BYU experience.
“Being a part of this team and a class that‘s been one of the most successful in BYU history has been a great experience for me. I'm very fortunate to be a part of that and to have had that opportunity, so I have to give my all one last time.”