Dick Harmon: BYU Football: Bright puts some light into Cougars

Published: Saturday, Aug. 9 2008 12:14 a.m. MDT

It's hot, humid and folks are cranky during a BYU football camp drill this week when a defensive lineman yells out from the sideline, mocking an offensive lineman on the field, "nice tackle, nice tackle."

Suddenly, from a crowd of first-teamers standing behind the drill line where younger offensive linemen are working, senior guard Travis Bright's head pops up and he looks over at the mocker and yells, "Hey." And when Bright has the attention of the owner of the voice, he takes his hand and makes a cutting motion in front of his neck.

The guy shuts up.

Travis Bright has spoken.

He is no longer broken.

The last time BYU coaches and players saw a fully geared up Bright, the towering 6-foot-6, 330-pound right guard was writhing in pain on the turf of Sam Boyd Stadium during BYU's win over UCLA. He had a seriously broken leg, one that required surgery in which doctors inserted metal below his knee that extends down to his ankle joint.

"Yeah, it went through the wash," said Bright this week of his ordeal and injury. "It lets me know when the weather changes or when I'm going through an airport security checkpoint."

Bright's comeback is an inspiration to BYU's entire team, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who said his presence may be the biggest impact on the team next to those who most often touch the football, quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga.

Bright holds the football team's school record for bench press (540 pounds), arguably the best in the Mountain West Conference. He also holds the team mark for the hang clean lift (434 pounds) and holds the title of the team's strongest man.

Bright's return is no small thing for the Cougars.

"Simply it changes the identity of our team," Mendenhall said.

"There's a leadership and a presence in terms of physical play and toughness that as soon as he's on the field or in the locker room I think our mindset changes. We're able to run the ball more effectively, we're able to work against the run more effectively and that helps us win championships."

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae agrees.

"I think it's awesome," Anae said Friday. "It speaks of who we are as a team, it speaks to who the kid is and what he means to our team. He does every drill that I can think of. There's been no discussions about his health."

"It's an intimidating feeling," explains linebacker coach Paul Tidwell, "to be a new freshman like Spencer Hadley, and have Travis pull out and lead block for Harvey and see this 6-foot-6 giant barreling down on you. Imagine."

Bright, however, dismisses such talk, or how valuable he's perceived on the team. "We're all just a close-knit group who tries to help one another get better."

Bright's eyes, however, do twinkle a little when you press him about his accomplishments in the weight room.

But even then, he's quick to place it in perspective. He even believes some of his weightlifting marks are threatened by a walk-on — a freshman returned missionary who was in New Zealand a year ago.

What?

It's true.

He couldn't even pronounce or remember specifically Nate Hartung's last name, but he was building him up, crediting him, and the kid from Butler, Pa., barely had been issued a uniform.

"That hang clean will be the school record until Nate blows that out of the water," Bright said. "This kid is a monster. If I'm going to lose it, it will be to somebody like him. He's a really good guy and I think he has a chance to play this year."

See? Bright lights things up.

I asked Hartung if this were true, that this big team leader felt threatened, and he was embarrassed Bright viewed him that way or that anybody would even talk to him. But he felt buoyed up. Hartung once benched 500 pounds in high school back when he weighed 440 pounds. "I had weight issues back then," said Hartung, who is now a "trim" 377.

Said Hartung of Bright's school records, "That would be very hard and tough for me to challenge. I'm just a walk-on freshman off a mission. He's very tough, but you always want to chase numbers, especially the kind he's posted, and he's really helped me fit in and made me feel welcome."

Bright is one big reason one of the more experienced lines in the region is optimistic about the coming season. "We have a chance to be good if we remember to not take anything for granted," he said.

Bright did not take football for granted when broken down in Las Vegas last December. Neither did he do so in the off-season in rehab.

"It's good to be back. It keeps you humble knowing your body is definitely breakable," Bright said.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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