My most frequently used phrase in high school and college very well might have been "It's all in the hips." As effective as that was in illustrating most anything to my female peers, it really takes a back seat on the football field to "It's all in the quads." The first thing that stands out about BYU middle linebacker commit Rylee Gautavai when looking at his profile is his 475 pound squat max. The first thing that stands out when watching his film is the deep squat he utilizes in his stance.
"I feel really comfortable down there."
The next thing you'll see is him pushing somebody backward who outweighs him by 40 pounds.
"The coaches at Bountiful would put me down on the line in short yardage situations, every time there's a 4th and 1 or anytime they're expecting a sneak they put me down on the line because they know I have a good get up and a good drive with my legs...
Even my sophomore year, they put me down there (on the line) my sophomore year too. It was definitely a good experience for me, it was really good, it helped me out a lot."
"I just think it's the mentality that I have, I'm not going to shy away from anybody, I love to be physical and I love to hit. Also my explosiveness from my lower body really helps me, it's just the mentality that I'm not going to let somebody put me on the ground, I'm going to fight and be physical with them, it's what I love to do."
Nose tackle in short yardage situations as a sophomore? Was he the same size back then?
"I've played middle linebacker all three years, I was about 20 pounds lighter my sophomore year. I had the second most tackles on the team, and I didn't play the first four games of the season."
How does a 185 pound sophomore prepare himself to play so well so young?
"I actually started playing my 8th grade year, I played one year of little league in 8th grade then four years of high school."
That's a lot of preparation in not very much time. Not only did Rylee work hard to get better, he had a lot of natural strength on his side as well.
"As a sophomore (his squat max) was honestly only about 340, it wasn't very high. The thing is, playing soccer I never touched weights until my freshman year, because in soccer we really didn't need to lift. I think (his legs) are just naturally strong, but also I worked really hard in my weight lifting. After my freshman season up until now I've worked pretty much every day and the majority of my lifts have been my lower body and explosive powerful lifts. My power clean is at 275."
He was a year late in getting started in weight training and years late to the game in his football playing experience. But that didn't stop him from eventually catching the eyes of the coaches at division 1 football programs. Because of his limited experience and being undersized as a middle linebacker, he didn't catch the eyes of University of Utah and University of Arizona coaches until the summer before his senior year. With both programs having already extended most of their offers by that time and having received a number of commits, neither program had scholarship availability for him.
"We sent my film out a couple of months after my Junior year, but I don't think it really got out to anybody, I don't think anybody saw it."
Luckily for BYU, Gautavai is planning to serve a mission right after high school, and BYU has plenty of experience of finding available scholarships for prospects who are planning to serve a mission before enrolling.
"Going into this year I went down to the Junior day and I performed really well there and got my name into BYU. They invited me to look around the program and then a couple weeks into the season we sent them some highlights from my early games and they were really interested in that. So they called me down and they said that I'm very high on their list right now and to stay in contact. They sent Coach Poppinga up to our Woods Cross game and he watched me there and he felt that I had a really good game. They called me back down a few weeks later to watch practice and see how they do things down there. They still had really high thoughts on me, and once again they said 'hold on, we've got to find a way for you.' Then that next day they ended up offering me, so it all started with the Junior day going into my senior year."
"I think what impressed them the most was that my footwork is really good. I have a really good lower body from playing soccer so I think my footwork really impressed and caught their attention. Also my natural speed and the way I fly around the place, just how hard I play and how hard I work, that's what they tell me really caught their attention."
"I think the big thing was just my confidence level, I had a lot more confidence having started as a sophomore and a junior. I knew I could make plays, I had seen it in the games that I had played that I could play, I could handle things. Like I said I grew up playing soccer, so the camp before my sophomore year was really my first camp that I had ever gone to. I didn't have very much confidence then, but going into this year my confidence level was huge, and just knowing that I could compete at a high level. I would say also just my knowledge of the game and my preparation and hard work has really started to pay off."
Luckily for Rylee, the program that found an available scholarship for him was also the same program that he grew up dreaming of playing for.
"Yeah, I've always been a BYU Cougar fan, as a child, me and my three other brothers and my grandparents had season tickets to the games and would go down to the game. I've always loved BYU."
"It's one of the top football programs in the nation, except for this year, year in and year out they're always ten win teams. I like to win, there's no doubt about it, I love to win. I just want the whole church aspect of it too, their main focus is football, but they also involve the church aspect. I like that it's close to home and it's where I grew up, it was always my dream sitting in Lavell Edwards Stadium to one day be able to play on that field so it has come full circle for me."
"The thing I love about BYU's football program is their coaches. I love the coaching staff, every one of them are amazing and they're great coaches and they've just been so nice to me and also my family. I just love how that defense flies around, I love watching BYU's defense. My game fits BYU a lot better than most other schools."
"Also I had influence from Cameron Jensen who I've always looked up to and always wanted to play like. He's had a huge impact on me."
What can Cougar fans expect of Gautavai at BYU?
"I can easily put on weight, the thing with my weight right now is Bountiful didn't want me getting any bigger. They wanted me to stay how I was, the coaches at BYU have told me they're going to put 20 or 30 pounds on me when I return."
"I'm going to work hard, I'm fully invested in the program. I love it, I'm so excited to be able to play for BYU. I just have the mentality that I'm going to do whatever it takes to be successful."