BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u hoping for a Shay Muirbrook-esque senior-season rebound

BYU promo graphic for Butch Pau'u three games into the 2016 season (Source:

When the BYU Cougars opened the 2016 football season against the Arizona Wildcats, familiar names like Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams, Kai Nacua, and Fred Warner led the team to battle. During the game, a new name emerged: Butch Pau'u. He led the team with nine tackles, made one sack, two and a half tackles for loss, and forced one fumble. It was clear Pau'u was going to be a key member of the 2016 Cougar defense.

At season's end, Pau'u had played in 10 games, but the sophomore linebacker had the second most tackles on the team (83) trailing Warner by three tackles. He was third on the team with seven tackles for loss. His stellar play helped persuade his teammates to vote Pau'u to be a team captain last season.

Expectations were high for Pau'u in 2017.

He missed the first game with an undisclosed suspension. He left the Utah State game and missed the entire Boise State game with injury. In 11 games, Pau'u made just 74 tackles. His tackles for loss dropped to three, and he made zero sacks. At the end of the season, word got out that Pau'u was less than happy about an internal matter.

It was not the season anyone had expected for Pau'u.

This unexpected turn of events puts Pau'u in a similar situation as another linebacker who wore the Cougar blue: Shay Muirbrook.

Muirbrook had a breakout sophomore season in 1994. He led the team in tackles with 102. The Norco, California native also registered six sacks and six pass break ups. Muirbrook also forced four fumbles. Like Pau'u, Muirbrook found himself elected a team captain the following season.

BYU LB Shay Muirbrook (Photo by Brian Winters)
Although he was named first-team All-WAC and was selected as the team's Geneva Steelman of the Year, Muirbrook was "disgusted" with his play, according to the book Wild Blue Yonder (p. 43). He was just third on the team in tackles with 85. His sack total dropped to four. He forced just one fumble, and he didn't break up a single pass. When the 1996 preseason magazines came out, "one magazine suggested that Cougar middle linebacker Muirbrook was the most overrated player in the league" (Wild Blue Yonder, p. 41).

Anyone who payed attention to BYU football in 1996 can tell you, Muirbrook rebounded in a big way his senior year. He was, once again, the leading tackler on the team with 97 tackles. He also had a career-high and team-high nine sacks. He made a career-high eight tackles for loss, and had six pass break ups, again. Muirbrook also intercepted three passes, which was one more than he had the previous three seasons combined. Against Utah State, he returned a fumble 45-yards for a touchdown.

Bowl stats weren't included in season totals back then, which is a shame. Muirbrook had a bowl game to remember. He made 12 tackles, six sacks, and five tackles for loss against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. One of those sacks resulted in a safety. His performance was so impressive that in 2012 Muirbrook was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

Muirbrook left Provo as a BYU legend. His senior season had a lot to do with that.

With Spring practice in full swing, Pau'u has begun his final football season at BYU. He has adopted the "win now" attitude that coaches are pushing. He has spent part of the time since the end of last season conditioning with the wide receivers and defensive backs, so he is not out of shape again. Pau'u is working on "staying lean" for more fluid movement on the field. Pau'u recognizes that a positive attitude is also important to be more productive on the field.

If this leads to a spike in production on the field for Pau'u and wins for BYU, he might also leave as a legend.

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