PROVO — Kelly Poppinga is still working long hours, and he's still coaching BYU's outside linebackers.
"It feels just like last year," he said, "only I get a paycheck now."
Five games into the 2010 season, coach Bronco Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and shuffled his staff, which included promoting Poppinga from graduate assistant to interim outside linebackers coach. His audition in that role last fall was successful, and in January, the interim label was removed from his job description and he became a paid employee.
"I'm really fortunate to be in the position that I'm in," he said. "I'm really thankful to coach Mendenhall for giving me an opportunity to coach here, where I played and to be able to give back a little for what they've given me. It's been a fun eight months and I'm looking forward to hopefully a really long time here."
Poppinga was an All-Mountain West Conference linebacker at BYU in 2006 and 2007, leading the Cougars in tackles as a senior.
Now, he's working with an athletic group of linebackers like Jordan Pendleton, Kyle Van Noy and Jameson Frazier, who will help lead BYU's defense.
"I'm really excited about the guys that I have and the type of players they are, too, and the talent we have," Poppinga said. "The talent at that position right now, I think is better than it's ever been here. It's fun to be able to coach those guys and hopefully help them reach their goals personally and as a team.
"It's great to have guys like Jordan, who's given our team a whole new identity, and Kyle, the way that he's matured physically and in life. It's fun to see that. All in all, it's a really good group and we're really talented. We'll see these next couple of weeks who comes out as the two starters."
The Cougars have been cautious with Pendleton, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, during fall camp.
"We're really trying our best to give him enough reps where he feels comfortable once he gets to the first game," Poppinga said. "But we know his abilities and talents and what he can do. It's impressive to see what type of kid that he is and the leader that he's developed into. We'll manage his reps and make sure he's 100 percent by the first game. He's practiced well. The team has responded well to his presence out here."
Joining Pendleton, Van Noy and Frazier is senior Jadon Wagner, who was cleared to practice this week after leaving school last spring when he was drafted by a Canadian Football League team. Then there's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound work-in-progress from Ghana who started playing football last year.
Ansah, a junior who was a sprinter on the BYU track team in 2009, has recorded several "whistle" sacks during fall camp.
"He's come a long way. He's trying to gain his role and he's taken some huge steps," Poppinga said of Ansah. "To see a guy that's only been playing football for a year do what he does on the field, I mean there's not a tight end out there that can block him. The (offensive) tackles are having a hard time with his speed rush and his power. He's so long and physical and big.
"If he gets it, he can be really good — freakishly good. But he has a long way to go just because he's never played the game before. He could be a very special kid."
Mendenhall loves the depth he has at outside linebacker.
"Who starts out there isn't as important as we have a lot of good players," he said. "Between Jordan, Kyle and Jameson, we're going to be in really good shape. Then you add Ziggy to the mix as well as Jadon. I like our outside 'backers a lot."
And BYU's outside linebackers like Poppinga.
"He puts things in perspective, and he's a fun guy," said Van Noy. "When you mess up, he'll let you know and encourage you. He's very passionate about what he does, and it brings the best out of us."
BYU camp report
DAY 9: The Cougars held their final open practice Tuesday morning in front of 1,069 fans.
STANDOUTS: Running back Joshua Quezada scored on a 12-yard touchdown run and James Lark threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Marcus Mathews. McKay Jacobson had a 23-yard catch and Richard Wilson had an 18-yard reception. Justin Sorensen drilled a 57-yard field goal. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy recorded a "whistle" sack and Uona Kaveinga put a big hit on JJ DiLuigi, and drew a personal foul penalty.
INJURIES: Left tackle Matt Reynolds was held out due to a stomach ailment. Linebacker Ezekial Ansah sat out with a shoulder injury. Safety Travis Uale was sidelined due to cracked ribs.
NEXT UP: BYU returns to two-a-days Wednesday with a morning and an afternoon session.