College football preview: BYU football: Team will be young but plenty talented
PROVO — During a team meeting held midway through fall camp, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall invited all the newcomers to the front of the room to learn "Rise and Shout," the school fight song.
"Three-quarters of the room came to the front," Mendenhall said. "It's amazing that we have that many young players. But it's fun, and I think we have a chance to have a good team."
How some of those young, untested players perform this fall could have a significant impact on the Cougars' 2010 season.
Of the 26 players who have signed with BYU since February, 19 of them participated in fall camp. Of that group, several are expected to make their debuts in a Cougar uniform on Sept. 4 at LaVell Edwards Stadium against Washington.
Quarterback Jake Heaps, running back Joshua Quezada, linebackers Zac Stout and Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Ross Apo, and defensive lineman Graham Rowley are among those true freshmen likely to make significant contributions this season.
The most high-profile recruit, Heaps, has been battling Riley Nelson for the starting job, and the two will share snaps. Nelson will get the start against the Huskies, but Mendenhall said Heaps will also play.
"Jake has done an amazing job for a freshman quarterback," said senior cornerback Brandon Bradley. "He's learned the offense, he's learned to read defenses. He has great potential, and I think he's done a good job of proving himself worthy of battling for the starting spot."
There are others, such as redshirt freshmen — tight ends Richard Wilson, Devin Mahina and Mike Muehlmann; wide receivers Cody Hoffman and J.D. Falslev — and true freshmen who are recently returned missionaries — tight ends Marcus Mathews and Austin Holt — who could also make an impact.
"All of the new guys have done a really good job of coming out and being excited to play," said junior offensive lineman Matt Reynolds. "I think what that's done is get everyone excited to play. It's helped the level of competition and excitement. To see guys coming out and competing, to see new guys fighting for positions, it's a really fun atmosphere."
Reynolds knows all about starting as a young player. He locked down the starting left tackle job as a freshman, not long after returning from a mission, and he ended up as a freshman All-American.
"I've talked to a couple of the guys about playing early in their careers. As we get closer and we see which players will be contributing, I'll talk to them more about it," Reynolds said. "We've got a great group of kids. They've really come out and shown that they want to play. They've really shown that they can compete with the older guys at a high level."
Bradley has been impressed with the newcomers, too. "A lot of guys in the secondary, at linebacker and on the D-line have been able to come in and step in and show their abilities," he said. "There are a lot of other guys who have come in and compete. Overall, our freshman class has done a good job."
Heaps, Quezada and Van Noy have benefitted from enrolling early — last January — in order to participate in spring ball.
"The fact they were here in the spring helped them," Bradley said. "Being here since spring has made a big difference for them in this camp. It's definitely given them a jump-start. In my time here at BYU, I haven't seen this many young players ready to play as this year."
At the start of camp, Mendenhall said the high volume of young players "almost feels like we're starting over," considering the host of veterans who have moved on. "This group, I think, kind of has a chip on its shoulder," the coach added. "With so many spots up for grabs and no real returning stars, so to speak, I think there's a real heightened sense of competition."
Indeed, several newcomers could make a name for themselves early in their careers.
"They're looking really, really good, especially for being true freshmen," said senior cornerback Brian Logan. "We have the confidence in them to come out and fill those spots and make plays. I think the younger guys will eventually be just as good as the guys we've lost."
Conference football affiliation
*No football was played from 1943-45
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