PROVO — On a pleasantly warm, sun-drenched Friday afternoon, the BYU football team took the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the first time this year.
With about 800 former Cougars looking on amid annual Alumni Day festivities, there were big plays and big hits during the spirited 90-minute spring practice.
"We just wanted to have some fun and play football. Nothing more specific than that," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I was impressed. (The players) wanted to play, they wanted to tackle, they wanted to run, they wanted to catch. It was good."
"Everybody was doing a great job. Everybody was pretty juiced," said quarterback Jake Heaps, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 66 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to McKay Jacobson.
JJ Di Luigi rushed nine times for 57 yards and Bryan Kariya had three carries for 35 yards, including a three-yard touchdown run during "team" sessions.
"It would take more than one hit for them to go down. It was pretty exciting," Heaps said of the running backs. "Our offense is really difficult (for the defense) to get a gauge of what we're doing. We're really mixing things up, from play-action to run, power, sweeps, zones – we're doing everything. It's great when you can throw a quick hitch to a big perimeter guy and let him go get some yards for you. I'm really excited about our offense right now."
On defense, running back-turned-safety Mike Hague turned in a couple of bone-crunching tackles.
"There were good plays on both sides and good competition," said Mendenhall. "I think it was reflective of the entire spring."
It was clear the Cougars enjoy playing at Edwards Stadium.
"It's awesome," Heaps said. "To have this opportunity as a new team, you get to see what kind of team you have a little bit when we come out here. It's a different environment. There's something about playing in your own stadium."
Heaps added that he and his teammates like having former BYU players return to campus.
"When we can have our alumni coming back and showing us support, showing us they still want us to carry on the tradition that they laid before us, it's a huge thing. We take that real seriously here. It's always fun to show the alumni what they left this place to and we want to do the best we can for them. We're grateful for what they've done for us. We want to carry on that tradition."
Mendenhall said practice wasn't anything out of the ordinary, despite the audience of former players watching.
"Basically, business as usual, and have them see a day in the life of our program. There really wasn't any stage set, other than they get dinner. For us it was another work day. That's the best thing we can show them is what a practice looks like."
The only piece of bad news from Friday's practice was an ankle injury sustained by running back Joshua Quezada. He suffered an "acute ankle sprain" and will continue to be evaluated over the weekend.
SPRING GAME: The annual Blue-White scrimmage is set for noon next Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
Earlier this spring, Mendenhall said it may be more of a practice than a scrimmage. But on Friday, he said, "Because we've had very few injuries, we might have enough offensive linemen to be more game-format. We'll have to look at this practice and decide what we want to do Tuesday and Thursday of next week. That will determine what (next) Saturday looks like. Maybe over the weekend we'll announce what that will be like."
COWBOY BALL: Mendenhall and his wife, Holly, will host the inaugural Cowboy Ball on Saturday, May 21, at 6 p.m. The Fully Invested Foundation, a non-profit organization created by the Mendenhalls in 2010, sponsors the event.
The Cowboy Ball will feature dinner, dancing and a silent and live auction, with proceeds going to benefit the Thursday's Heroes Program. Auction items include a 2009 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, Bronco and Holly's personal paddleboards and a week-long stay at a Montana dude ranch. A variety of BYU football memorabilia will also be up for auction.
For more information about the Fully Invested Foundation,go to www.broncomendenhall.com. Donations may also be made online.
NOTES: Former Cougar quarterback Max Hall was among the alumni taking in Friday's practice. ... Quarterback Riley Nelson was 4-for-4 for 31 yards while James Lark and Jason Munns were both 1-for-1.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company