PROVO — Former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki’s journey to the National Football League has been a bumpy one.
But Friday, he arrived.
The Cleveland Browns selected Takitaki in the third round — the 80th overall pick — and he became the latest Cougar linebacker to be selected on Day 2 of the draft, one year after former Cougar Fred Warner was taken in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers and five years after another former Cougar, Kyle Van Noy, was picked in the second round by the Detroit Lions.
During his time at BYU, Takitaki dealt with plenty of adversity, having served suspensions and having sat out the 2016 season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft.
But by the time he was a senior, Takitaki had gotten married and turned his life around on and off the field. Last season, he switched positions, from defensive end to linebacker, where he displayed his playmaking abilities.
“I showed all the NFL teams that were talking to me that I’ve moved past that, being a team captain, taking care of school and being in a happy marriage,” Takitaki said. “I moved past all those knucklehead days.”
Going into the draft, Takitaki was optimistic that he could be selected in the third round but he wasn’t necessarily thinking Cleveland would be the team to call his name.
Takitaki was watching the draft on TV Friday night with his wife, Alyssa. The Los Angeles Rams had just made their pick and Takitaki needed to use the restroom. Cleveland was next on the clock.
“I never really talked to Cleveland in the past except at the combine,” Takitaki said. While he was in the bathroom, he received a call from Cleveland.
“I jumped right up. I didn’t have to use the restroom no more,” he said. “It was pretty funny. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Browns assistant general manager Eliot Wolf praised Takitaki’s resilience.
“He is a success story at BYU,” he said. “You talk to anyone there, they didn’t think he was going to make it his first year. He completely turned his life around.”
Wolf was impressed by Takitaki’s play during the Cougars’ 24-21 upset of then-No. 6 Wisconsin last September.
“He was an absolute wrecking ball. If you weren’t looking at him going in, you would have begun to notice. It was really exciting to watch,” Wolf said. “This is a physical football player who plays with violence. That separated him from the other linebackers in this class. Sione was easily the highest player we had rated up there (at 80).”
Takitaki is the first BYU player ever drafted by the Browns.
“I’m very excited for Sione,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “He will fit perfectly with his talents in Cleveland with a really good coaching staff. Sione is a versatile athlete and really took advantage of his experience playing three different positions for us. He will just continue to get better.”
Takitaki is confident that he can make an impact on Cleveland’s defense.
“What makes me a great linebacker is that I can play inside or outside,” he said. “I’m willing to come in and fit in where the team and the coaches need me. I’m pretty comfortable playing both. That’s what makes me a unique linebacker.”
The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder from Fontana, California, finished his BYU career with a memorable performance, recording a career-high 19 total tackles in the Cougars’ 49-18 drubbing of Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
That performance tied him for No. 4 in school history for tackles in a single game and the most in a BYU bowl game.
On the season, Takitaki eclipsed the triple-digit mark for tackles on the season, finishing 118. He became the 68th BYU player to post 100 or more tackles in a single year.
Takitaki built on that momentum by acquitting himself well at the NFL combine, the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game as his draft stock continued to rise.
Now, he’s heading to Cleveland.
“The Browns gave up 78 rushes over 10-plus yards last year, including nine rushing touchdowns, a Tecmo Bowl-esque big play problem area that can’t continue in 2019 if they want to unleash a potential takeaway combo of a great pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary,” wrote ESPN’s Chris Sprow. “Takitaki adds competition at linebacker, where run stops will be a clear focus.”