PROVO — For BYU's J.J. DiLuigi, success on the field is in the details.
The junior running back worked hard during the offseason, becoming sleeker and honing his skills. During fall camp, it's paying dividends.
"Physically, I feel the best I've ever felt in my life," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder. "I'm stronger, I'm leaner. I'm feeling really good. I tried to work on my footwork all through the offseason."
On the first day of fall camp, coach Bronco Mendenhall singled out DiLuigi for his solid, consistent play. Earlier this week, Mendenhall said DiLuigi and fullback Zed Mendenhall "seem to be pulling away a little bit" as BYU's top running back combo.
DiLuigi has spent considerable time trying to become even more effective at catching passes.
"I have worked on it. I love catching the ball out of the backfield," he said. "I love getting the ball in open space. And in our offense, I feel if any of our running backs can catch the ball in open space, it makes our offense that (much) more wide open. Not only do defenses have to worry about us running, but catching the ball, too."
Junior quarterback Riley Nelson has noticed DiLuigi's hard work.
"J.J. got himself in immaculate shape," he said. "He focused on leaning up and getting quick. It's all about speed. He's been mastering his position, the details of his footwork and the details of his route running. That's why in the pass game, he's open all of the time. In the run game, he always finds a crease because he's put in a lot of work that way."
"J.J. has incredibly quick feet. He can make you miss," said running backs coach Lance Reynolds. "He's got nice vision. He can change directions on a dime. He's pretty fast."
Coaches also say DiLuigi is more confident and mature as he heads into his fourth year in the program.
Last season, DiLuigi rushed 45 times for 248 yards and three touchdowns (averaging 5.5 yards per carry). He caught 22 passes for 270 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
Against Tulane, he rushed for a career-high 71 yards and he recorded a career-high 94 yards receiving against Wyoming.
As a kickoff return specialist, DiLuigi averaged 24 yards per return in 2009. It's a role he will continue this season.
Now that three-time 1,000-yard rusher Harvey Unga has moved on, DiLuigi and junior Bryan Kariya are looking at filling the void.
"There's a big opportunity," DiLuigi said. "Bryan and I are trying to take the leadership role as the veteran guys. Without Harvey around, it's kind of like you know you have to step up. In the past, we could just rely on Harvey. If there was anything wrong, we could just throw him in. Now, it's like, 'You have to be the man.' "
True freshman Joshua Quezada and sophomores David Foote and Mike Hague provide the Cougars with depth in the backfield. Two other true freshmen, A.J. Moore and Drew Phillips, could make an impact, as well.20 comments on this story
BYU's ground attack will continue to be a big part of the Cougar offense, DiLuigi said. "Our core is strong and deep. I think our run game is going to be great."
A big reason why DiLuigi is so optimistic about the running game has to do with BYU's experienced offensive line.
"We have a great offensive line. Our line is going to blow up holes," he said. "So far, it's been a matter of us hitting the holes. It's a wonderful feeling, knowing four of the five starters are back on the O line."