Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — Coach Lance Reynolds may have finally found his tight end.
Amidst the mess of five juniors vying for the spot, it's Kaneakua Friel who will be seeing first reps at the position on the heels of an impressive fall camp performance.
The Kaneohe, Hawaii, native has risen to the top showing a skill that he's struggled with in the past — consistency.
"He's a big athletic guy and he always was, but he wasn't prepared to (play) last year," tight ends coach Lance Reynolds said. "Now he's blocking really well, and he seems more steady out here every day. He was sort of up and down in the past, but he's been consistent."
Friel's rise to the top of the tight end heap was aided by a slew of injuries to other competing players. Austin Holt and Richard Wilson have been slowed coming off of offseason surgery while Devin Mahina broke his hand during the first week of fall camp. Marcus Mathews, meanwhile, has made a temporary move to wide receiver to help out with depth issues there.
Indeed Friel had an open window to establish himself as the primary guy at the start of fall camp and jumped right through it. Although Holt and Wilson have shown tremendous strides, he's been able to stave them off.
Friel said his increased consistency and level of play is due to several factors. First and foremost has simply been time.
"I don't think I've done anything all that dramatic, but that me being where I'm at is sort of an accumulation of all the practice time, time in the film room and everything else," said Friel. "I mean, I've been here — this will be my fourth year in the program, so I'd better be at the point where I can be more consistent. That's how I view it, at least."
Extra motivation has also come from being newly married with constant encouragement from his spouse.
"Every day she's telling me to strive to be my best and I think that has helped a lot," said Friel. "In the past I'd take days off after having a really good day, but I'm not doing that anymore and I think a lot of that is because of my wife constantly encouraging me to be my best."
To stand out at tight end involves a lot more factors than just catching the football well. A BYU tight end must also prove to be a punishing blocker, which Friel has proven to be.
"He's a physical blocker man — big time," said Reynolds about the 6-foot-5, 250 Friel. "He's catching the ball better, he's running a lot better routes and he understands what is going on a lot better … he's just better all around."
Friel's primary backups will likely be Holt and Wilson, who have both impressed as well during preseason practices. Holt, last season's starter, is largely considered the best blocker of the tight ends while Wilson is deemed to have the best downfield speed.
"Austin (Holt) and Richard (Wilson) have made great progress," said Reynolds. "When things started they were struggling moving around, but now they looked 100 times better. They run around, and they're moving around better."
Mathews may yet return and find a role with the tight ends, but the player he was exchanged for — Terenn Houk has impressed Reynolds after a few days of practice. Houk has been playing at wide receiver since joining the program last season.
"He's a big, tall guy that has great ball skills," said Reynolds about Houk. "He jumps pretty good, he's tall, long and lean. We've only had him a few days, so it's hard to get a handle on him, but I think athletically, he has quick feet and quick hands, so I think he has the skills to be a good tight end and now we'll just see if he can do it."
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