PROVO — As BYU kicked off its second day of practice, there was plenty of attention to the players and coaches on the field preparing for the season opener on Aug. 29. This story, however, is dedicated to the many BYU fans that came to see their team play in the first practice open to the public in 2014.
The fans lined the sidelines, sat on the bleachers and stood on the balcony of BYU's Student Athlete Building to get their first glimpse of the team on a sunny Saturday morning. There were Cougar fans of all ages, many of there with their families, excited for the upcoming season. Here are some of their stories.
For Boyd Kritchfield, BYU football is very much a family affair. "I went to school here and graduated in 1967," Kritchfield said. "My children have all gone here, and we're Cougars. We have 23 football season tickets [as a family]."
Kritchfield already had quite a group of grandkids there nice and early to see the practice. "I have another son who is bringing his three sons who is going to sit with us," he said. "We follow religiously. We're looking for the new faces and new recruits at receiver. The excitement and improvement from the offensive line. Trying to see if we have the horses to do what you writers have been telling us is a possibility."
And this isn't anything new for the Kritchfield family. "It's been a tradition for us," Kritchfield said. "When we were students, my wife and I going to the football and basketball games, we brought our babies with us. They grew up, and as a result, I personally feel that this activity united our family in a special way. It was something all of us wanted, cheered for and believed in.
"So, it's extended to the grandchildren now. And now they're doing the same thing with theirs, for the most part. It carries over into our personal life, our views of the overall mission of BYU and the church."
David Kritchfield, one of Boyd Kritchfield's sons, remembers cheering on BYU from a very young age. "Every Saturday we had an activity, whether it was a home game or an away game, we always knew that if it was a home game we'd be going as a family," he said.
By the look of the number of grandchildren that came out to watch the practice, it looks like cheering on BYU will continue as a family tradition for years to come.
Forrest Luke and his grandson, Jordan Carlson, had to get up early to see this practice. They got up at 5 a.m. and drove from Craig, Colorado, to see the Cougars. That's a drive of about 275 miles."
"I just thought it would be cool to watch it and to see all the players up close," Carlson said, smiling. He was particularly interested in seeing quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams.
Luke was optimistic about the upcoming season. "I think we have a chance to have a real special season," he said.
By special season, he meant an undefeated season.
"Things can go wrong, but I think with a year of the new offense behind us, I think our offense is going to be a lot better," Luke said with a smile. "I think that if we can make it past the first few games, we have a chance to make a real run."
Ralph Finlayson was likewise optimistic. "I think they ought to do very well," he said. "I think they'll improve on last year. They have last year's experience, getting used to a new system. I think they have the capability to win every game. I'm not sure that they will, but they have that capacity if they play well."
Tom and Scott Hammond came as a father and son duo to see the practice, and Scott Hammond wasn't reserved with his predictions. "Tell them I said undefeated season," he said. "If no one else is willing to say it, just write that down." He added, "That's what I predict every year."
There's no more hopeful time for college football fans than early August.
Another big-time BYU fan present was Archie Brantley, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant from North Carolina. "My wife passed away a couple years ago, so I sold my home," Brantley said. "My kids went to BYU, I had three of them go to BYU, and I have grandchildren who keep coming. So, this is my home, especially during football season."
One of those three kids, Tammie Yatteau, was also there with Brantley along with one of her sons, representing three generations of Cougar fans. Naturally, such a family has some great BYU football memories.
Yatteau remembers the 1997 Cotton Bowl particularly well. "We played on New Year's Day, and I was pregnant, and we had the baby Dec. 30 so that I could be home in time for the game. So I've been a Cougar fan for a long time."
Brantley's favorite memory was of the 1984 Holiday Bowl vs. Michigan. "I was coming down from North Carolina with my wife and wife's mother, and we were in Tucumcari, New Mexico. We stopped that night for the championship game. We put grandma in the other room because she doesn't care about football, and I wanted some space to cheer. I was so excited I was jumping on the bed."
Brantley hopes to make more such memories in 2014. "We've got tickets to go watch BYU play Texas," Brantley said with a huge smile. "They should be there today in the mail! We're flying down."
This family, like many of the BYU faithful, have represented BYU well on the road. "With the bowl game last year, we were a little disappointed they didn't win, but we were there," Brantley said.
"I was there when BYU beat Oklahoma in 2009," Yatteau added. "It was fun."
Sitting next to Brantley was Berkley Spencer, a longtime Provo resident who taught international development studies at BYU. His favorite memory was Jim McMahon's incredible Hail Mary to cap BYU's comeback against SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.
"I was living in Costa Rica," Spencer recalled. "My stake president was an SMU graduate. He was listening to the radio, and I was listening to the radio. He called me when SMU was way ahead, I don't remember the score, and he said, 'Well, I'm sorry Berk. I guess I'm going to bed.' So, he went to bed and I listened to the last minute, when we won. Well, I called him up and said, 'Guess what? BYU beat SMU!' and he said, 'Come on, you're kidding! You've got to be kidding!’ ”
BYU fans were excited to watch their Cougars practice. They cheered when UTEP's Jordan Leslie and Mitch Mathews made touchdown grabs. Excitement is in the air for college football, and Cougar fans hope that 2014 will be another memorable season for BYU.
Thanks to all who shared their stories. I will be at BYU's scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Aug. 15, and I would love to talk to any and all BYU fans there. Also, if you have better BYU stories than the ones above, please send them to SportsBLT@gmail.com. I will be collecting stories for additional fan features throughout the season.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.