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Provo • Call him skinny Bronson and he will smile. Call him LeBronson, the nickname he got after a rough-and-tumble, enforcer-like stint with the big man-depleted BYU basketball team two years ago, and he will smile.
Call him the husband of former BYU women's soccer goalie Hilary Smith Kaufusi and he will smile. Call him the brother of BYU basketball center Corbin Kaufusi, or the son of defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, and he will smile.
Bronson Kaufusi, BYU's 6-foot-7, 270-pound quarterback-chasing giant, never goes anywhere without flashing his pearly whites. He's as good-natured, affable and easy-going as any other player on the team, one of those guys who throws his head back and laughs at almost everything.
Call him a defensive end, again, after an unsuccessful (by most accounts) season attempting to play outside linebacker, and Kaufusi really smiles.
"It feels nice to be back there at defensive end, it really does," he said after the Cougars wrapped up their fourth practice of preseason camp earlier this week. "It's what I do best."
Yes, the great defensive experiment of 2014 having Kaufusi drop 20-25 pounds and play linebacker in an ill-fated attempt to replace the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy is over. There are even some who say the switch cost the 2014 team a win or two (the Nevada loss comes to mind).
Kaufusi was listed as a linebacker on the spring camp roster and played both positions in March. He mostly lined up at defensive lineman and worked in drills with members of that unit, but he dropped back into coverage like a linebacker on many occasions.
He's officially listed as a defensive lineman now, and he plans to stay there his senior season. There's been no dropping back the first week of camp, although neither he nor BYU coaches are ruling out that possibility once the season starts.
"I will do whatever they want. I know playing me at linebacker like they did, the plan was to still have me rush a lot more," Kaufusi said. "But then they had me drop back [into pass coverage] a lot. That kinda took away my skill set. It is smart to move me back to D-line, because now I get to rush every time. So I was happy that they made that switch."
Late in the 2014 season, coaches realized the experiment wasn't working and played Kaufusi at defensive end more and more. He wasn't totally ineffective as a linebacker. He still recorded 43 tackles, including a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks, also a team high.
But there were times when he was not fast enough to cover a running back or tight end in space.
"I don't feel like they got the best out of me," he said. "Moving me back down to defensive end is just a better idea for me."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Kaufusi is the best pass rusher on the team, and it makes sense to have him do that full time. Besides, the Cougars are deeper at outside linebacker this year, with Fred Warner, Sione Takitaki, Sae Tautu, Tyler Cook and Teu Kautai giving outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga a lot of talent to work with.
Another OLB, sophomore Colby Jorgensen, fractured his neck in practice on Tuesday and is out for the season.
"Bronson is more natural with his hand down, especially in our scheme," Mendenhall said. "He looks more at home, and he is playing it really well currently."
Steve Kaufusi, the defensive line coach, said the Cougars are playing a different scheme this season to take advantage of his son's abilities.
Bronson Kaufusi weighed about 280 pounds when the 2013 season ended, and he went on a strict diet to get to about 255 so he could play linebacker in 2014. He said he's back up to 270 now, which is about ideal.
"It is always difficult to change weight, but it is worth it?" Kaufusi said. "My body responds pretty well when I go up and down. Right now, I am right around 270. That's where I want to be right in there."
At this time next year, Kaufusi hopes to be in an NFL camp, trying to make a roster. He's hoping that teams will be impressed by the versatility he showed as a collegian.
And he will be sure to bring along his smile.
About Bronson Kaufusi
• Cougar senior is back at defensive end after moving to outside linebacker last season
• His brother Corbin is the starting center on BYU's basketball team
• His father, Steve, is BYU's defensive line coach
• Named to the watch lists for the Nagurski, Bednarik and AFCA Good Works awards