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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Cougars impress scouts at Pro Day

Matangi Tonga said that he had to wake his legs up.

“I was nervous when I walked up to the line,” Tonga said. “My legs felt rubbery.”

The 290-pound nose tackle was one of eight Cougars to work out for scouts from 19 NFL teams yesterday at the University’s Annual Pro Day, held inside Yeoman Field House.

Tonga’s combination of size and speed made him standout during the drills. He ran a 4.81 second 40-yard dash and had the most reps on bench press among the Cougars. That performance had some scouts interested in him as something other than a defensive lineman.

“I was shocked. They had me doing fullback drills. The last time I played fullback was in high school. They told me to get in a fullback stance, I forgot how to do that. I just learned how to play fullback in about five minutes.”

Tonga gave the scouts a taste of his offensive skills, running a handful of routes and learning blocking drills on the fly.

“He was teaching me how to spread my feet, sit down a little bit,” Tonga said. “All the running routes came back naturally as I was running around and the blocking they told me what to do.”

Tonga said that he has always been quick and that gaining weight has been his biggest problem playing as a defensive lineman in college.

“Growing up I was really skinny, so I was always pretty quick, pretty fast,” Tonga said. “As I got older I started putting on weight, but I still kept my same speed. That was always an advantage lining up at D-line.

“I’m looking to get stronger, especially if I’m going to play D-line, because I’m going to be going up against lineman that are 6’6, 320 and they’re not sluggish — they’re pretty fast. My quickness and speed is there. I can get a lot stronger.”

Overall, Tonga was pleased with his performance, but there was one small part of his workout that would leave the gym with him.

“On my bench, I wanted 30, but I got 29,” Tonga said. “That one more rep is going to kill me. It’s going to kill me for a couple of days, but that last rep is so hard.”

Other Cougars were pleased with their performances as well. Isaiah Thompson saw Monday as a way to improve upon some of his numbers from his NFL Combine performance in Indianapolis.

Kierre Johnson had the best 40-yard dash time at 4.43. Jamal Robinson took the top spot in the broad and vertical jumps.

“We have a lot of talent at this school,” Thompson said. “And maybe sometimes people get overlooked for whatever reason. I’m just happy that the amount of scouts that were out here today showed up so everyone could have an opportunity also.”

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