PROVO — For a couple of hours before taking the field for spring practice Thursday, the BYU football program was fully invested in March Madness.
Players and coaches watched the Cougar basketball team's double-overtime victory over Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which marked BYU's first opening-round win in 17 years.
"Our players were yelling and celebrating. I could hear them in the locker room," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Our staff were in different rooms (watching the game). It was really fun. It was a great reminder of just what athletics can do for the spirit of the institution and give you a cause to rally around. It was a great day."
Mendenhall saw the game while multi-tasking. "I was working out at the same time it happened and it was phenomenal. I was done with my workout during regulation, then I watched the first overtime during lunch and the second overtime during a player interview."
Both Mendenhall and Cougar basketball coach Dave Rose were hired at their respective jobs within months of each other five years ago. They've become good friends.
"I'm happy for coach Rose, his team and their accomplishments. It's great for the institution," said Mendenhall, who added that he's glad Rose's team has been able to overcome what had been a big obstacle for his program. "Regardless of his success, there are certain standards that keep being raised as you have more and more success. To see him break through that one, I was really happy because even had they wouldn't have won it, it would have been a fantastic season. But having won that, it changes things a little bit — the way the world will perceive what they've been able to do this year."
BYU cornerback Brandon Bradley, who hails from Florida, was a Gator fan growing up. Of course, he cheered for the Cougars on Thursday.
"No loyalty issues," said Bradley. "It's funny because my younger brother and I had an argument all week about who was going to win. He was saying Florida was going to win. I was saying BYU. I'm excited to call my brother and rub it in his face."
DONNING THE PADS: The Cougars put on pads for the first time this spring on a cold, overcast Thursday afternoon.
"There was some jitters and the play wasn't quite as clean in terms of offensive execution," said Mendenhall.
The defense, which struggled a bit on Tuesday, turned in a strong performance Thursday.
BYU will don full pads today, which marks the conclusion of the first week of spring drills.
"Overall, we've been able to accomplish a lot already with some relatively youthful players at certain spots," the coach said. "We're getting a good idea of personnel. I'm encouraged to this point. We have a long way to go, but I'm encouraged."
QUARTERBACK COMPETITION: True freshman Jake Heaps completed 5-of-6 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown pass to Harvey Unga during 11-on-11 drills.
Sophomore James Lark was 1-for-2 for four yards, including an interception by safety Travis Uale. Junior Riley Nelson was 0-for-2 but made perhaps the play of the day. While scrambling, he juked past linebacker Uona Kaveinga, much to the delight of the offensive players.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company