PROVO — During the recently completed bye week, BYU devoted some of its practice time to developing the program's young talent, much of which toils in anonymity on the scout team.
Members of the scout team face the starters in practice sessions in an attempt to help them prepare for the upcoming week's game. The Cougars, currently slogging through a tough campaign with a 3-5 record, are counting on several underclassmen on the scout team — including redshirting freshmen — to provide them with a big lift in years to come.
Some of those youngsters are already making an impact.
One of the stars on the scout team offense is speedy true freshman running back Drew Phillips. He was sidelined when fall camp opened, due to an NCAA clearinghouse issue. Then, days later, once he became eligible to practice, Phillips suffered an injury, which forced him to miss the rest of fall camp. The 6-foot, 175-pounder from Boaz, Ala., was hoping to play this season, but that didn't work out.
"The injury and the NCAA clearinghouse issue set me back a little bit," said Phillips, who has been clocked with 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash. "I talked to coach Mendenhall and told him whatever was best for the team, I would do. It would have been nice to play this year, but I feel that by being on the scout team, it's giving the defense a great look for the games. That was the best way to help the team."
According to Cougar defensive players who face Phillips every day in practice, Phillips is making key contributions, even though he's not on the field on game day.
"I think he's from Alabama. He's got a (Southern) accent. He's hilarious," said senior defensive lineman Vic So'oto. "He's got speed. He's fast. He's tough. As a defense, we try to hold the scout team behind the line of scrimmage the whole week and not let them catch a ball. So Drew takes a lot of beating. For a little guy, he gets hit a ton. He's been able to bounce back every time and get up and run around and still be fast. He's a tough kid. He'll be a good player."
"Drew Phillips, man, he's a stud," said senior cornerback Brian Logan. "I remember going into the Washington (game), and I thought, 'Why isn't this kid (Phillips) playing?' I remember him running routes against me in practice, and once I got to the game, I thought, 'Drew is faster than this guy (on the other team).' "
Redshirt freshman receiver J.D. Falslev, who is returning kicks this season, has also caught his teammates' attention on the scout team.
"Drew and J.D. give you such good looks with their quickness and their routes," Logan said. "When you get into the game and you face other guys who are slower, I'm like, 'Drew and J.D., you can go over there and be an All-American.' They've definitely helped us out a lot."
Phillips is looking forward to getting on the field next season with the rest of the 2010 freshman class, which includes quarterback Jake Heaps, who's now the Cougars' starter; wide receiver Ross Apo, who suffered a season-ending finger injury early in the season; linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who is seeing plenty of playing time as a true freshman; and defensive backs Cori Gaines and Jordan Johnson.
"When I was being recruited by BYU, I was looking at other schools. I got in contact with Jake. We talked about how great it would be to play with each other," Phillips said. "When we first came here on our official visit, everybody bonded. We felt like a family right when we came here. I knew there was something special about this place."
Among others who have impressed on the scout team offense, according to So'oto and Logan, are freshman fullback Algernon Brown and quarterbacks Matt Marshall and Dallin Tollestrup.
On the defensive side of the ball, freshman nose tackle Travis Tuiloma could be a star in the making, according to So'oto. "I think he could have played this year, had we known that Romney (Fuga) was going to go down (with a season-ending injury). Physically, Travis is there. He could be one of the best nose guards to play here. He just needs a lot of reps. When you play the nose in a 3-4 (defensive scheme), you're basically the key to the defense. Travis isn't there mentally with the scheme yet, but he will be. He'll be one of the better players to play at this place."
So'oto added that linebacker Uona Kaveinga, a USC transfer who is sitting out this season, will strengthen the defense next season. "He'll be good," So'oto said. "He's a smart player."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall has said he's excited about the future of the players who now participate on the scout team. Asked which freshmen players have stood out, Mendenhall replied, "We have a lot of really good young talent that we've redshirted. It's almost a question of who's not (standing out). I don't think we missed on a single freshman recruit. It's a really good class."
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