I went down there for spring practice and we have some guys that are real good and getting better, but there are some open spots and it’s my goal to help fill those spots. I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team as much as possible next year. —Brayden Kearsley, BYU football
PROVO — The BYU football team signed an unprecedented four junior college offensive line prospects, along with at least one notable high school player, to accomplish what few players at the position have been able to accomplish — make a significant contribution as a first-year player.
The junior college candidates include Josh Carter (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) from Eastern Arizona junior college; De’ondre Wesley (6-7, 305) from Diablo Valley JC; Edward Fusi (6-1, 285) from Mount San Antonio JC; and Tim Duran (6-4, 290) from Cabrillo College. From the high schools ranks comes highly recruited Brayden Kearsley (6-4, 290) from Aloha High in Portland; Thomas Shoaf (6-6, 265) from Columbus, Ind.; Addison Pulsipher (6-6, 260) from Temecula, Calif.; and Keegan Hicks (6-3, 285) from Bingham High in Utah.
While immediate contributions from high school signees aren’t generally anticipated, it’s exactly the opposite for incoming junior college players. Indeed, all four JC offensive linemen were signed to provide immediate contributions to a unit that is undergoing a major overhaul under new position coach Garett Tujague.
It’s not normal for BYU, which has signed just two junior college offensive linemen (Levi Mack and Jesse Taufi) since Bronco Mendenhall became head coach in 2005, to rely on junior college talent along the offensive front. A rash of injuries and general under performance of the group last season ushered in the need, however.
The incoming group is well briefed on that existing need and eager for the opportunity.
“I want to play — simple as that,” said four-star offensive line recruit Kearsley. “I went down there for spring practice and we have some guys that are real good and getting better, but there are some open spots and it’s my goal to help fill those spots. I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team as much as possible next year.”
So what are the chances the incoming group will provide immediate relief? While significant first-year contributions have been made by players such as Dallas Reynolds and Terence Brown, such contributions have been few and far between at BYU.
As mentioned, however, the need for new talent has rarely been at such a premium with at least three of the five offensive line positions appearing wide-open entering fall camp.
“The center spot and the right tackle spot are the positions I have my eye on, but I’ll play wherever they want,” Kearsley observed. “I’ll play at guard, if that’s where they need me. I have a lot of work to do between now and fall camp, but I’m willing to put in the work since that’s what will earn me a spot.”
The new offensive staff has simplified the blocking schemes and has put an emphasis on maintaining a very quick pace, which may present a bittersweet adjustment scenario for incoming players.
“It’s all going to be about effort with the guys coming in and how much they’ve worked before getting here and how hard they’re willing to continue to work,” Tujague said at the close of spring practices. “We’re not going to go backwards for these guys — we’re not going to stop. The guys that are here have put in the work and now it’s the job of the incoming players to catch up. We’re not going to go backwards or push the pause button on what we’ve accomplished as a group.”
Tujague’s message has been received loud and clear by the incoming linemen, who have received marching orders in the form of a rigorous workout schedule.
“They’re tough — real tough,” described Josh Carter. “They vary a lot, but the emphasis is on a lot of running — more running than I’ve ever done. But knowing what coaches are doing and what it’s going to take, I’m willing to follow the workouts as best I can.”
It’s one thing to work out on-campus with position coaches motivating you at every turn. It’s quite another to take the initiative upon yourself to at least try and keep up with the work being done by those already in the program.
According to those who have passed through the program, while observing incoming junior college transfers, getting into playing shape is generally the biggest challenge for first-year players. The challenge is made all the more difficult with the severe altitude change Provo presents to many incoming players.
The altitude factor is something Carter became familiar with while serving an LDS mission to Salt Lake City.
“I know that I wasn’t ready for the altitude change when I first got on my mission, but having been through that I think is an advantage I’ll have,” he said. “Right now I’m just preparing as best I can, and fortunately I have some great friends who are helping motivate me. It’s easier working out with friends and having people push you, and fortunately I’ve had some of that since I signed with BYU.”
Carter, like most incoming players, will arrive around June 24 in time for summer block classes, while others will be arriving a bit earlier.
“I’ll get to Provo around June 10 and stay with some family I have in the area,” Kearsley said. “Until then it’s up to me to motivate myself and my motivation is simply my desire to play. If you want to play, you have to work. That’s what coach Tujague is all about and I trust him fully as a coach. I know that if I put forth the work that there’s a decent chance I’ll play this year. That’s my motivation.”