CLEVELAND — When linebacker Sione Takitaki was anchoring a defense at Brigham Young University, he gained a reputation as a physical player who was skilled enough to cover sideline to sideline, and the Cleveland Browns wanted to add that kind of leader to their roster.
The Browns selected Takitaki in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft last month because they saw a linebacker that “plays like his hair is on fire,” meaning he has a relentless motor and can track down the ball at all areas of the field.
“I feel like that is the only way to go out there and play,” Takitaki said during rookie minicamp in Berea. “I feel like I’m a physical player. I can run sideline to sideline. I’m happy to come and be in Cleveland and happy to contribute to this team.
“I feel like since a little kid, I have always played physical. I feel like that is how I was taught the game from my junior All-American coaches to my father to go out there and play as a hammer. It is kind of a thing that has kind of stuck. I go out there and be real aggressive. I know when to be finesse, use finesse moves and things like that.”
For Takitaki, the key proved to be in harnessing the desire to pursue the football as to not be reckless on the field.
“I feel like sometimes, I can go out there and play with my head on fire, things like that, and sometimes, it can definitely hurt us,” Takitaki said. “I feel like once I got that together, I only forced that energy to use in good. I feel like my last year has really helped me upward.”
In Takitaki, the Browns got themselves a linebacker who overcame some maturity issues while at BYU, and after rejoining the Cougars program in 2017, a defender who is ready to embrace the challenges of taking his game to the NFL.
Over 41 career games in four years with the Cougars, Takitaki registered 241 total tackles, including 145 solo stops and 96 assists. Of those 241 total tackles, 33.5 went for lost yardage and 15.5 were sacks of opposing quarterbacks.
Takitaki defended five passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two others in his college career.
“I feel like right now, wherever I’m needed,” Takitaki said of where he can contribute the most early in his NFL career. “If that is the case, then I’m willing to be a starter. I feel like I got that talent. I’m coming in and trying to find a role. I don’t know what that might be.”
Whether Takitaki gets inserted into the starting lineup right away or has to earn playing time on defense through special-teams production, he is ready to work to help the Browns in any way he can and is not taking anything for granted.
“I was excited to get my name called in the third, but that is not the end,” Takitaki said. “I still have to show them why they were right in drafting me. I still have to put in the work. I can fall over tomorrow and ‘hey, he is a bust.’ Definitely have to come here. I have to get to work and prove them right.”