Saturday, April 10, 2010
This is a guy who gray-shirted at Utah before an LDS mission, then came back and created a nice notch in BYU's football program as a devastating leading blocker.
But his junior year in Provo, Tonga lost focus academically, fell so far behind that the school released him and mandated strict requirements for him to catch up and return.
And he did in 2009, barely, not knowing if he'd succeeded until right before two-a-days began last August.
After attending Utah Valley University and doing a patch-up job on his transcripts, he found a way to jump over some extremely stiff hurdles and penalties and made it back to BYU for a senior year that included a key role on an 11-2 nationally ranked team.
Then came his NFL tests this winter, which included a 4.8 time in the 40-yard dash as a 245-pound man.
Two months ago at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, an event that requires an invitation from the league's franchises, Tonga posted the second-highest score among running backs in the Wonderlic test, an intelligence quiz. It's a 12-minute, 50-question test designed to measure aptitude for adapting to certain situations. It's a multiple-choice test with increasing difficulty.
Somehow, this doesn't add up. Literally.
"Man, I wasn't expecting that," Tonga said Friday from Indianapolis where he was doing some rechecks on some medical examinations for the draft.
"I was just filling in the bubbles, hoping for a score," he said with a stroke of humility.
"I got lucky."
This week his college position coach, Lance Reynolds, said it absolutely tracks with what he knows of Tonga, a guy with an impressive mind. With school, Tonga got casual with attendance and assignments; it wasn't that he couldn't do the work.
"The football part, he was always very, very smart. You could see it the way he moved around, not hesitating, getting to the right place at the right time, getting open on a route, doing it with speed a guy his size isn't supposed to have," said Reynolds.
Tonga had a 29. These scores are not available from the NFL, but they eventually leak out from agents of players who have access in the weeks that follow the combine.
"Manase didn't focus like he should have in the classroom, but he is very smart. It doesn't surprise me that he scored that well. In team meetings, you could ask him a question and he could be half asleep and give you the right answer, a good answer," said Reynolds.
To put the score in perspective, the average score for a quarterback is 24.
Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow had a 22, according to the Palm Beach Post, and John Beck scored a 34 in 2007. The average score for participants is 21.
The NFL created a new Wonderlic test in 2007 because agents were obtaining copies and helped clients memorize answers.
Of note, since the NFL started to use the Wonderlic Test in the early 1970s, only one athlete, Harvard receiver Pat McInally, registered a perfect score of 50. Other interesting scores over the years include quarterbacks Alex Smith (40), Eli Manning (39), Steve Young (33), John Elway (29) and this year's QBs Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (36); Colt McCoy, Texas (25); and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen (23).
So, Tonga scored higher than Clausen, McCoy, Tebow and John Elway.
Sample Wonderlic questions include stuff like this: A train travels 20 feet in 1/5 second. At this same speed, how many feet will it travel in three seconds? And, when rope is selling at 10 cents a foot, how many feet can you buy for sixty cents? You might remember Texas quarterback Vince Young scored a 6, then upon taking it again, got a 15. The meaning of all this is a little dubious because Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored 15.
Tonga's score of 29 was ahead of LSU's Charles Scott (26) and Tennessee's Montario Hardesty at 25. While the Wonderlic doesn't accurately forecast how high a player will be drafted or if he'll even succeed in the NFL, it is a tool to tell if a player is capable of managing information. But even that isn't an exact science.
"Manase is a very sharp young man," said Reynolds.
"I think I did pretty well, and that Wonderlic score helped. I don't know what will happen. At the worst case, I won't get drafted but I think I'll get my shot."
Tonga's one solid workout came with the Patriots. "I'm waiting for a couple of more to come," he said.
In the case of Tonga, it adds to the anecdotal file of how impressive this guy is and what he's accomplished. It remains to be seen where he'll be drafted, or if he'll even make a team.
But it is said around BYU's campus that Tonga is a better blocker than Fahu Tahi and Fui Vakapuna — and they've cashed NFL paychecks.