BYU football: Intern's days are long, mundane, educational

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

PROVO — Wonder how much time BYU coaches put into their jobs each week? Well, check out the daily schedule of the interns.

One of them is former Cougar linebacker Kelly Poppinga, who helps out a BYU defense that shut out Wyoming last week, 52-0. Poppinga lives in Salt Lake City. He leaves his house in the darkness, at 4:30 a.m., and arrives in Provo at about 5:15. After a workout on campus, he gets to his office between 6:15 or 6:30. He doesn't leave until after breaking down film of practice by 7:30 or 8:30 p.m., depending on the day. He returns to his home in the darkness, by 9 or 9:30.

"It's a long day," said Poppinga, who finished his BYU career in 2007. "But when Friday comes and I'm on the plane and we're flying somewhere (on a road trip), it's a good rest right there. It's about the first time I get a good sleep all week long."

This week, the Cougars go on the road again to face New Mexico Saturday (noon, The mtn.).

Poppinga's role is similar to that of a graduate assistant — which means he receives a stipend equivalent to what a player on scholarship receives. Of course, he could be earning a lot more money doing something else. He doesn't have to subject himself to this kind of anonymous, and sometimes mundane, work. But he says his goal of becoming a football coach is worth the sacrifice.

"I wouldn't be putting all this time in if I wasn't making plans to be in this career," he said. "It's not as much football as you think it is. You're doing a lot of little stuff that's not football-related. But at the same time, I'm learning a lot. If I knew as much when I played as I know now, I would have been a lot better player, that's for sure. It's been a great experience."

While Poppinga was explaining the nature of his job with a reporter recently, linebackers coach Paul Tidwell walked by.

"I do whatever coach Tidwell tells me to do. I'm his little whipping boy," Poppinga said with a sly grin, knowing Tidwell was within earshot. "Whatever he tells me to do, I do. Wash his car, clean out his office."

Said Tidwell, smiling: "That's not true."

"Sometimes I'll run down and get Jamba Juices," Poppinga said.

"I have asked him to do that," Tidwell admitted.

"The intern and graduate assistant do the same exact stuff — breaking down film, doing all of the odds and ends stuff to help the full-time coaches and making their jobs a little bit easier so they can spend their time on game planning," Poppinga said. "Really — washing cars, getting Jamba Juice."

The fact that Poppinga is only a couple of years removed from his playing days — he bounced around in the NFL for a time with the Dolphins, Rams and Cardinals — can make for an interesting, if not awkward, dynamic. It's not always easy in this role, coaching players he used to compete with.

"You once were on the field and now you have to coach them up. It's different," Poppinga said. "But with the guys I didn't play with, I think I treat them in a totally different way than the guys I played with. It's more than a business-type relationship. There's a fine line there that I have to make sure I don't cross either way. But it's fun."

Defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said he's enjoyed having a former teammate involved with the program again in a very hands-on way.

"I think it's great to have a guy like Kelly because he's one of those guys who I've played with, and he understands us pretty well," Jorgensen said. "A lot of times, whether it's the age or whatever, there's a kind of gap between players and coaches. When you have someone like Kelly, who's right in the middle, he can get a really good sense of what's going on with the team and how guys are feeling and what's going on with them and communicate that from players to coaches and vice-versa. He does a really good job of that and it helps out a lot."

Poppinga isn't the only former Cougar who is an intern on the staff. Former defensive lineman Shaun Nua (2002, 2004) is an intern with the offense.

"It's great to have them," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Oregon State 20 years ago. "It's so much fun now to have players that wanted to come back, wanted to coach and were inspired by what their experience was here and they want that again. They're willing to come, and a lot of the reasons they want to coach is because of how it was done, what their experiences were."

Both Poppinga and Nua have made an impact on the players, Mendenhall said.

"To see the young players looking up to them ... there's a different feeling when the knowledge, compared to one of those guys, it might get in deeper, faster, when it comes from those guys."

Cougars on the air

BYU (7-2) at New Mexico (0-9)

Saturday, noon

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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