PROVO -- The way coach Bronco Mendenhall sees it, a new era begins Monday for BYU as it opens spring football practice. The Cougars are preparing for their first season as an independent and they'll do so with a bevy of returning young, talented players, as well as a revamped coaching staff. Mendenhall is eagerly looking forward to a fresh start for the program.
"It feels like a rebirth to me," Mendenhall said.
BYU is coming off a 7-6 season that saw it open with a dismal 2-5 record, then rebound to finish 5-1, including a dominating 52-24 rout of UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
Mendenhall, who begins his seventh season at the helm, is hoping his team builds off the momentum from last season.
"I'm really anxious to see how much improvement we can see similar to what we saw last year from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," he said. "I'm anxious to see from the end of last year through the spring how far we can push that needle in terms of success and reaching our potential.
"The only thing that happened last year is, we ran out of time. We ran out of games. We continued to improve and grow and develop and were really gaining a lot of momentum the longer the season went. Our players had a sense of frustration that the season was over. I think that's why they're carrying so much optimism and excitement going into the spring because they see it as a continuation of last year."
Mendenhall added that "the chemistry and confidence, and the way this team works together and seems to like each other, has a sense of commonality in looking forward to this next stage for the program, that's really clear."
Almost the entire offense is returning for BYU, headlined by sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps, who made dramatic strides last season after taking over the starting job as a true freshman four games into the campaign.
Defensively, the Cougars have some holes to fill.
"The secondary in general, if you were to ask where are the most questions for this defense, it would be in the secondary," Mendenhall said. BYU must find replacements for safety Andrew Rich and cornerbacks Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan.
Mendenhall's staff underwent a major overhaul during the off-season. Among the changes include Brandon Doman being elevated to offensive coordinator; the hiring of Ben Cahoon as wide receivers coach and Joe DuPaix as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Secondary coach Nick Howell will now oversee the special teams.
Mendenhall, who took over defensive coordinator duties after the midseason firing of Jaime Hill, remains in that role.
"If you think about the significance of the changes we've had, we'll have a new defensive coordinator, a new offensive coordinator, a new special teams coordinator and a new recruiting coordinator," Mendenhall said. "Every coordinator position or key leadership position on the staff has been changed. With that comes so much excitement and energy and enthusiasm. A real passion for being at BYU specifically, working with our players and maybe overarching all of that, with the love for the mindset and the direction the program has taken, and how it's currently being run. It's been a lot of fun."
The Cougars open the season on Sept. 3 at Mississippi, which will be BYU's first game as an independent.
"It's kind of an empowering opportunity and liberation going into independence of controlling our own destiny from the schedule to the future of our program," Mendenhall said.
The first of BYU's 15 practices, which are closed to the public, start Monday. The spring game at Edwards Stadium is scheduled for April 9 and it is open to the public.
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