PROVO — The high clouds had cleared by midmorning and the sun was out. But weather had nothing to do with it.
That part was just a bonus.
Most of the sunshine at the BYU Student-Athlete Building on Tuesday involved the first day of spring football practice. It could have been raining dirt and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was time to snap on the chinstraps.
The first day is always like that: fresh start, new lease on life, etc. This was no different. Except, of course, it was entirely different. The offense. The coaching staff. The vibe. A new staff can do that.
Opening day was as upbeat as an ABBA concert.
“Sitting there, I’m like, all right, I kind of have butterflies,” said wide receiver Nick Kurtz.
Frankly, it would be hard not to be enthused. For starters, there’s the schedule: Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Boise State, Utah State
It’s a lineup made for a power conference team, minus the conference.
They don’t even have to attend league meetings.
In addition, there are returning players that produced so many wins: Taysom Hill, Tanner Mangum and Jamaal Williams, to name three. There’s enough collective wisdom among them to start a counseling center.
But the biggest element is the two coaches who have raised enthusiasm as high as it has been for several years: head coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.
Day 1 apparently went nicely.
“Loved it,” said Sitake, whose actual head coaching experience now amounts to one day. “I mean, I love coaching football; love being around the guys. I thought it was cold enough, but a great day and I couldn’t be more pleased how everything worked.”
The addition of Sitake and Detmer isn’t just a renewal. It’s a trip back to the salad bar. With the Cougars set to utilize a pro-style offense, i.e. two running backs, two receivers and a tight end, they will look more like the old Cougars than recently.
The latter teams and seasons weren't bad. They were all bowl years. Bronco Mendenhall produced five 10-win seasons, though none since 2011. But ask anyone over 40 which offense he/she prefers. They’ll say, “Give me the drop-back.”
Detmer didn’t win the Heisman by flattening people.
If there was a sobering note on the day, it was that the ever-popular Hill is far from playing form, following his season-ending injury.
“Oh, man, nowhere close,” he said.
He just started jogging two weeks ago.
“They’ve (coaches) made it clear they need my help in September, so that’s the target,” he said.
For all the caution, the fact Hill and Mangum will be competing for the starting spot next fall is an irresistibly juicy story. Hill was the team’s best player last fall — and all others, when healthy — before going down with a season-ending foot injury. Mangum was remarkably prepared to step in.
Realistically, Mangum will resume his starting role next fall. Why bench a talented sophomore for a senior on the comeback? Theoretically the Cougars could use Hill the way Florida used Tim Tebow as a young player, i.e. when they need someone to bull through on short yardage.
Either way, it’s a gift for receivers such as Kurtz and Mitchell Juergens, both having caught passes from both quarterbacks.
“Tanner makes it easy to catch, Taysom is the same way,” said a diplomatic Kurtz. “But Beau Hoge throws a lot of heat. It all just makes you better.”
Mangum or Hill, spread or pro set, some things don’t change, said Juergens.
“As a team here at BYU, we work hard and we make plays, and that’s going to be the same personality,” he said. “We come out with a chip on our shoulder and a certain swagger that only we can have here at BYU — and I think the new coaching staff adds to that.”
A swagger that, on the first day of spring ball, pays no attention to the weather. It only reads the forecast in the locker room.
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