PROVO — A year has done wonders for former Bingham High All-American tight end Austin Holt as he navigates BYU's fall practice.
A year ago Holt returned from his LDS mission to St. Louis and started BYU football drills a month later.
"There is absolutely no comparison," said Holt of then and now.
"I came home and had three weeks to prepare. I came into fall camp with no idea what I was doing. My body was still in missionary mode and I hadn't played a down of college football. I don't know how I got through the season with a leg injury (and) I did injure my shoulder."
This week, Holt is part of one of BYU's most interesting position groups: the tight ends, who are basically the same age, guys who struggled last year, and now have a new coach in veteran Cougar assistant Lance Reynolds.
"I noticed today I could actually feel my legs after practice," Holt said. "A year ago, after practice or a game, my legs felt like rocks. I could barely walk. Even in spring ball I felt my legs lagging, but today I don't feel that any more."
Holt says BYU's tight ends were trying to find an identity last year and never quite did.
"I can honestly say I learned more in those three weeks of spring practice with coach Reynolds than I did all last year. I don't know if it's the coach," he said. "(This year) I think it is because Reynolds is a fantastic coach, but we're all learning we have different strengths that we do well."
Holt said Reynolds is finding a place in BYU's offense for the tight ends.
"I think you're going to see some great things out of the tight ends," Holt said. "It is a night-and-day difference from a year ago."
At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Holt, a sophomore, may be the best blocking tight end.
Sophomore, Richard Wilson (6-2, 232) is the fastest.
Sophomore Devin Mahina (6-6, 245) and returning missionary sophomore Kaneakua Friel (6-5, 244) may be the most physically talented, shaped in the mold of previous BYU tight ends.
Sophomore Marcus Mathews (6-4, 208) is a hybrid WR and TE who is working out with both groups. Senior Matthew Edwards (6-3, 214) is a gutsy veteran who has made his mark on special teams.
Freshman Colby Jorgensen (6-7, 234), right out of Timpview High, has looked very good catching passes with newcomers the first two days of fall drills.
Holt said with new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman calling the plays, fans will see a true West Coast offense, a pro-style look with tight ends getting down in a three-point stance: "(It's) real nitty gritty," just like in the pros.
"We've got some guys who can run. We've got some guys who can block. We all can catch pretty well," Holt said. "I just think it's going to be better."
Holt said BYU's offense will be completely different this year.
"We'll do some of the basic things, but coach Doman will bring more balance to the offense," Holt said. "My friends and family a year ago would say we were a little bit predictable. I think teams saw that last year and I don't think they'll be saying that this year."
Holt's hopes for his tight end group are based on solid observations. He lists them this way:
— The tight ends are older, coached differently, and are more understanding of their roles.
— There isn't a QB controversy, and Jake Heaps is taking charge and he's good. Also, all of the running backs return, and all but one player on the offensive line is back.
— All receivers return, and with Doman calling plays, it is assumed this will lead to a very productive offense.19 comments on this story
"It's going to be an amazing year," Holt said. "We have some tough games, but we will be ready to play."
Holt said BYU is installing new plays — not all completely new — but a word here, a tweak there, additions of new formations that will create more flexibility "to make our offense more unpredictable."
"It will be exciting stuff," he said.
It is especially exciting for Holt to practice with legs that don't feel like freeway pylons.
That alone will make a difference for the former Bingham star.