Sione Takitaki went from being kicked off the BYU football team after his first season in Provo to being named team captain his last. Now the Cougars’ senior linebacker is headed to the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns selected Takitaki with the 17th pick of the third round of the NFL draft Friday night, No. 80 overall. The selection completed a remarkable rise for Takitaki, who was projected as a sixth- or seventh-round pick before he shined in a couple senior all-star games and put up impressive numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Browns assistant general manager Eliot Wolf said the club was impressed by Takitaki’s off-the-field turnaround at BYU.
“He is a success story,” Wolf said in a conference call. “You talk to anyone there — they didn’t think he was going to make it his first year. He completely turned his life around.”
Added Wolf: “He is a violent tackler, and plays with a lot of versatility.”
Takitaki, 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, grew up in Fontana, Calif., and was raised by a single mother. He was involved in a fight in the BYU dormitories before his freshman season, and was only allowed to stay on the team after then-coach Bronco Mendenhall let his teammates vote on the matter.
He would be suspended three more times before his junior season, but turned his life around with the help of his wife, Alyssa, a former BYU swimmer.
“I am very excited for Sione,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake in a school news release. “He will fit perfectly with his talents in Cleveland with a really good coaching staff. Sione is a really versatile athlete and really took advantage of his experience playing three different positions for us. He will just continue to get better.”
Takitaki said he hadn’t talked to the Browns since the combine. He visited seven other franchises, and expected one of them to take him. But he was happy to go to Cleveland, despite it being one of the weaker teams in the league the past few decades.
He is the 17th BYU defender to be taken in one of the three opening rounds of the NFL draft, and 38th BYU player overall. Last year, fellow BYU linebacker Fred Warner went to the San Francisco 49ers in the third round.
Takitaki is the 15th BYU linebacker selected in the draft, joining the likes of Kyle Van Noy (second round), Rob Morris (first round) and Todd Shell (first round).
Provo • It cracks up former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki when people ask him which team he would most like to play for in the NFL as the draft approaches this week in Nashville, Tenn.
That’s because when you have been on the “remarkable journey” that Takitaki says he has been on, you can’t afford to be picky.
“I would love to play for any team that likes me,” he says.
Takitaki’s troubles at BYU and subsequent turnaround, with the help of his wife Alyssa, have been well-documented. He doesn’t shy away from talking about “that part of my story,” but is also eager to add more chapters, including the realization of a boyhood dream to play in the NFL.
Like Bronson Kaufusi was in 2016, Jamaal Williams was in 2017 and fellow linebacker Fred Warner was last year, Takitaki might be only BYU player taken in the 2019 draft, which begins Thursday with the first round, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday and concluding with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi — Bronson’s brother — is also a draft possibility, although three surgeries after the season ended kept him out of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and limited what he could do at BYU’s Pro Day. Running backs Squally Canada, Brayden El-Bakri and Matt Hadley, receiver Dylan Collie, defensive back Michael Shelton and quarterback Tanner Mangum are free-agent possibilities.
So draft weekend drama for BYU fans will center on Takitaki. In which round will he go, and to which team?
He hasn’t a clue, although the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are among the teams seemingly most interested. Takitaki said he made seven visits the last month to cities that host NFL franchises, while two clubs came to Provo for private workouts outside of Pro Day.
Last week, he spent 40 minutes talking to the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator via FaceTime and also visited the Houston Texans, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“I think I will be a steal,” Takitaki told KSL-TV. “People are expecting different things. I think I will go sooner than most people think. … Whichever team takes me, it will be a great day to get to that stage, get things going.”
That team will get one of the hardest workers in Kalani Sitake’s tenure in Provo, BYU’s head coach said.