BEREA — Sione Takitaki was suspended multiple times from the BYU football team and briefly kicked off it. He was dismissed from the university and didn’t play football in 2016.
The linebacker returned to school and the game the next year and became a team captain in 2018. He capped the remarkable transformation when he was drafted by the Browns in the third round Friday at pick No. 80.
“He completely turned his life around,” assistant general manager Eliot Wolf said. “He was just that guy in the program. You go out to practice, everyone is looking to him. He’s a ball of energy, and he’s a real leader and culture-changer.”
Takitaki (6-foot-1, 238 pounds) said he learned from the mistakes, which included a fight in the dorm, pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft and not showing up for a practice. He mentioned the difficulty he had dealing with the death of his father from cancer when he was 14.
“I was definitely going down the wrong path,” he said.
Takitaki gives most of the credit for finding his way to his wife, Alyssa, calling marriage “the biggest turnaround” in his life.
“I feel like for me I got really lucky. I married a great girl,” he said. “She just has everything right. Always pushing me to do better, and I feel like before I was always making decisions on the fly and wasn’t really thinking.”
.@STakitaki is about to be a PROBLEM for the NFL
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) April 27, 2019
Takitaki, who worked construction during the year out of football, played out of position as a pass rusher before sliding back to linebacker in 2018. He started all 13 games, playing outside and in the middle, and ranked 31st in the nation with 118 tackles. For his career he had 32.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.
Wolf and Takitaki said he’s versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker positions in new coordinator Steve Wilks’ system that requires speed at every spot. He ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, vertical jumped 37 inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times at the scouting combine.
The Browns were short-handed at linebacker before the draft, and Takitaki is expected to compete for playing time and possibly a starting role right away alongside starters Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey. Genard Avery, a fifth-round pick last year, is also in the mix.
“A really physical, exciting player, who plays super hard every play,” Wolf said of Takitaki. “He can run. He can cover. He can blitz.
“This is a physical, physical football player. He plays with violence and we felt like that was something that kind of separated him from other linebackers in this class.”
Wolf said he’d been tracking Takitaki for some time, but Takitaki said he hadn’t talked to the Browns since the combine and wasn’t expecting them to pick him. So when their turn came up, he went to take care of some business.
“I went to use the restroom and as I sat on the toilet, I got a call and I jumped right up and didn’t have to use the restroom anymore,” he said.
Saturday could be a big day for a handful of local NFL prospects.
Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad (Keystone High School) is the most likely to get drafted in the later rounds. He’s been cleared of a heart issue by a renowned sports cardiologist, but the issue could cause him to fall out of the draft and sign as a free agent.
The rest of the locals aren’t expected to be drafted but hope to sign or get invited to rookie minicamp on a tryout: Findlay receiver Jason Moore (Oberlin), Mercyhurst cornerback Dante Redwood (Midview), Michigan State linebacker Andrew Dowell (St. Edward/North Ridgeville), Michigan State fullback Collin Lucas (Avon Lake) and Eastern Michigan center Dakota Tallman (Elyria Catholic).
The Browns have five picks left in Day 3 after trading No. 144 to the Colts for the opportunity to trade up to No. 46 to take LSU cornerback Greedy Williams.
The picks are No. 119 in the fourth round, Nos. 155 and 170 in the fifth, No. 189 in the sixth and No. 221 in the seventh.
** In Nashville, Tenn., Hall of Famer Jim Brown announced the Williams pick, and linebacker Christian Kirksey announced the pick of Takitaki.