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Provo • When you are a hard-hitting linebacker who tied the BYU school record for tackles in a single game, with 19 (though such records have been kept only since 2001) and your name is Doni "Butch" Pau'u, you probably don't need a nickname.
But BYU's redshirt sophomore is getting them anyway so many suggestions that he's lost track of them all and finally reminded friends, family members and Cougar fans last week that Pau'u (pronounced: PAW-ooh) is just fine, thank you very much.
"There are a lot of nicknames that the players have mentioned, but they say none of them are going to stick, and that's fine with me," Pau'u said, smiling.
For fun, though, here are a few: The Hammer, Pow-Pow, Kung Fu Pau'unda and The Butcher.
Fellow defender "Sae Tautu told me he went to his uncle's house the other day and his uncles called me 'The Hammah,' and I said, 'What is hammah? Is that, like, hammer?' And he said, 'yeah, that's exactly what it means.' That's probably my favorite," Pau'u said.
Of course, the returned missionary from Servite High School in Orange County, Calif., does everything with a smile on his face, and not because he wants to be a dentist when his playing days are over.
He was smiling when he blasted several UCLA running backs on Saturday night, or when he extended a helpful hand to a UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen after knocking the highly touted "Rosen One" to the ground after the probable future NFL first-round draft pick had delivered a ball downfield.
Many of those 19 tackles he made against UCLA brought oohs and aahs from the crowd for the defender who has become a fan favorite. Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said he can't remember coaching a player who unleashed as many big hits in one game as Pau'u did against the Bruins.
Slightly undersized for a middle linebacker at 6 feet, 220 pounds, Pau'u can wipe out running backs, but he can't seem to wipe that smile off his face.
"I think it is hilarious," he explained. "It's funny to go one-on-one with a running back, and when you crush him, you know that on film it is going to look great and you are going to get praised by your mom and dad. Well, from your dad. Mom is not going to give you any praise. She's going to say you can always work on something else."
Uepi and Tupou Pau'u named their son after Uepi's linebacker coach, Don Butcher, at Saddleback Community College.
"Butch is actually my nickname," Pau'u said. "My middle name is Butcher, but everyone growing up just called me Butch."
Growing up in the Anaheim area, Pau'u played quarterback and linebacker for his youth football teams. He also played basketball and tennis in high school, and still says tennis is his favorite sport. He's majoring in Spanish, but hopes to get into dental school.
"If I have the opportunity to play in the NFL, that would be great. I would definitely take that opportunity," he said. "But my long-term [goal] is to be a dentist and start my own practice out in California, and live with my family out there."
Pau'u's tackle count is up to 37, which is third in the country. He's made five tackles for loss, including a sack and a forced fumble.
"He's short, but every ounce of his body is just muscle," said safety Micah Hannemann. "He's just laying the hammer on people, and it is so much fun watching that."
Off the field, Pau'u is always happy, engaging and personable. On the field, he's a terror, having stepped in seamlessly at middle linebacker for the Cougars when Harvey Langi moved to defensive end.
Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said Pau'u is "one of the most humble people you will ever meet," and Tuiaki said he's "an awesome kid to coach" and the "type of boy you would like your daughter to marry."
Pau'u recorded a team-high nine tackles in his first college start, BYU's 20-19 win over Arizona. He has clearly been the best player on the field for the Cougars through three games.
"I mean, he's got great instincts," said head coach Kalani Sitake. "I keep saying it over and over: It isn't a surprise to me. … He's aggressive, and he likes to hit, so that usually makes a good fit at linebacker, and middle linebacker, and I am really proud of him."
About Butch Pau'u
• Rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com at California's Servite High School
• Redshirted in 2012, then served an LDS Church mission to Honduras
• Played in eight games in 2015, mostly on special teams, and made eight tackles
• Tied Uani Unga's record for single-game tackles with 19 against UCLA