PROVO — Last season, BYU's young and inexperienced tight ends struggled to make plays for the offense.
During Saturday's spring game, redshirt freshman Bryan Sampson emerged in a big way, catching a two-point conversion in overtime from quarterback Riley Nelson to lift the White team to an 18-17 victory over the Blue squad.
Ironically, though, Sampson won't be part of the Cougars' tight end crew this fall because he's leaving this summer to serve an LDS mission.
"It's a good way to end and give the coaches something to remember me by," said a smiling Sampson, who finished with three receptions for 30 yards. "Right before that play, (senior tight end Matthew) Edwards said, 'This is your last play before your mission. This is for two years. Let's go!' He got me open."
On the play, Nelson rolled out and found Sampson in the end zone.
"He made a great play," Nelson said. "He's a really long-armed guy and made a nice grab. It was fun to see. I knew I could put it up high and he went up and got it."
For Nelson, who was BYU's starter last season before going down to a season-ending shoulder injury, it was a gratifying moment. But he put it all in perspective.
"As much fun as I had, it's still practice and it didn't mean anything, other than it was the culmination of a lot of effort and hard work collectively as a team and for a lot of guys who maybe on Saturdays it isn't their time to show how they've progressed, to have a competitive setting," he said. "I'm most happy for those guys who got to play."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall praised Nelson, who helped lead the White team to victory.
"Riley is one of my favorite people on our team. He has a lot of grit, a lot of toughness, a lot of heart," he said. "And he's a good leader. He's one of those players that you like to have the ball in his hands when you're in situations like we were today. He finds ways to make plays. I think a lot of him."
BRAVING THE WEATHER: About 5,500 fans showed up for Saturday's spring game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, despite cold temperatures and snowy conditions.
"I texted my parents (Saturday) morning and told them not to come down," Nelson said. "I told them it was going to be nasty and cold. They braved it just like thousands of fans. I don't think other universities get this kind of turnover with this kind of weather."
IN THE BOX: Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman called plays from the press box to determine if that's where he'll be during games this season.
"I tried it in the box today and that was valuable for me to be up there and try it," he said. "I had been calling every scrimmage in practice from the field."
Quarterback Jake Heaps joked that Doman went inside to avoid the cold weather.
"He definitely got a little soft on us today and went in the box," he said.
Added Heaps: "He's trying to figure out what he wants to do as an offensive coordinator. There are pros and cons to both. He wants to find out which is better for him. I was glad he was experimenting today."
TEAM CAPTAINS: Mendenhall said his players have voted on team captains and those leaders will be announced Monday to the team. Usually, Mendenhall waits until fall camp for players to choose team captains.
"This team is anxious to lead and anxious to keep going, so I thought it was best to put that leadership in place a little earlier," he said.
SPRING GAME NOTES: Linebacker Uona Kaveinga suffered an ankle sprain during the scrimmage. ... Rhen Brown led all receivers with two catches for 81 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown. ... Wideout McKay Jacobson had four catches for 31 yards. ... Defensive back Daniel Sorensen recorded five tackles and two pass breakups. ... Defensive linemen Eathan Manumaleuna and Travis Tuiloma had two sacks apiece.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company