PROVO — BYU sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps is not only looking forward to competing as an independent football team, but he's also excited for the chance to help the Cougars bounce back from a mediocre 7-6 record last season.
"There are high expectations for this football team. We've used that as a motivating factor," Heaps said. "We have a chip on our shoulder, and we feel like we have something to prove. We kind of got a bad taste in our mouth from last season. Sure, it ended great, but we're not a 7-6 football team. We're much better than that. We want to prove to everybody what we're capable of and be able to do it on a national scale."
BYU opened with a 2-5 mark in 2010 record before winning five of its last six games. Now, the Cougars embark on their first season as an independent with several high-profile games, including the Sept. 3 opener at Ole Miss, set to be televised on the ESPN networks.
"I'm so fired up about it. Our team is fired up about it. Our coaching staff is fired up about it," Heaps said. "It's not something that scares us. I love that people that are saying, 'BYU is biting a little too much off. I don't know if they're going to be able to handle this.'
"We wouldn't have gone independent and we wouldn't have taken on this schedule if we didn't think we were capable of doing it. This team is young, but we have experience. Our core will be there for numerous years. We're excited about that and we're excited to step up to the plate and show what we're capable of, and show that everybody that we're a team that should be a household name."
In preparation for the season, Heaps said that summer workouts have gone "better than I could have hoped for. They've been going really well. I'm really proud of the way we're working."
BYU opens fall camp on Aug. 6.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he can't wait to see newcomers like safety Daniel Sorensen, and wide receiver Ross Apo, who missed last season due to finger injury. Returned missionary defensive lineman Ian Dulan, who has one year of eligibility remaining, is expected to redshirt since he returned from his mission on July 1. "He looks great," Mendenhall said.
Linebacker Jordan Pendleton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the loss at Utah State, has undergone two surgeries during the offseason, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.
Defensive lineman Romney Fuga, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Nevada, has been cleared to participate in camp.
However, Mendenhall said a number of players will not participate in fall camp, including defensive lineman Thomas Bryson, who won't join the team until the first day of school. Same goes for running back Drew Phillips, who "still has two classes, two grades, to become eligible," Mendenhall said. "He is taking summer school."
Safety Kori Gaines has temporarily lost his scholarship, Mendenhall said, and will spend the next year "valuing getting his education paid for."
In other personnel notes, linebacker Collin Keoshian has left school. Mendenhall said Keoshian may transfer to UCLA. Linebacker Jordan Atkinson has ended his career because of a back injury. O'Neill Chambers, who was suspended indefinitely last season, could rejoin the team in January at the earliest. Chambers, a receiver, is switching to safety.
COUGAR CHALLENGE: A couple of weeks ago, BYU coaches and players participated in the Cougar Challenge, which includes a mile swim, a sprint up Y. Mountain, strong man exercises and running every step of LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"The NCAA doesn't allow players and coaches to do it together," Mendenhall said. "The coaches leave first, and we have to be done before players start."
How did the coach do?
"The young coaches have passed me up. I'm very humbled now," said Mendenhall, who turned 45 in February. "The first year, three players beat me. Now, like 40 of them beat me. It's a good sign because I had the same time, they're just better."
Senior wide receiver Matt Marshall won the challenge, Mendenhall said.
HE SAID IT: When asked which road trips he's most excited about, Mendenhall said, "I've never been to Oxford (Miss.) before. The last time I was in Austin, (Texas) I was playing at Oregon State. We got beat 61-16, so I'm anxious to kind of fix that. I haven't been back to Corvallis, which is where I played and coached. I'm anxious to get back and see what they've done there."