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BYU football notebook: James Lark, Riley Nelson could both play in Poinsettia Bowl

Published: Monday, Dec. 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback James Lark (7)as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012  Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012,in Provo, Utah.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback James Lark (7)as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012 Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012,in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SAN DIEGO — BYU held a 90-minute practice Monday at Helix High School in preparation for Thursday's Poinsettia Bowl matchup against San Diego State. Coach Bronco Mendenhall still isn't naming his starting quarterback.

However, he hinted that both James Lark and Riley Nelson could play against the Aztecs.

At practice, Lark took more snaps than Nelson, just as has been the case for the past week.

"In my opinion, Riley's still not at 100 percent," Mendenhall said. "The good news is, we still have three more days. But they're both getting work. There's a good chance that you could see both (quarterbacks). I'm not sure how it's going to play out nor can I predict the next three days."

Asked if he knew who would start the bowl game, Lark said, "No comment. I can't really comment on that."

Lark did say he's enjoyed being able to get a lot of practice time rather than just observing, as he has done at bowl practices in previous seasons.

"It's just been a lot more meaningful," he said. "I come out here and get to do something I love. It's my last football game at BYU. It means a lot to me to be out here with my guys, playing and getting better."

Meanwhile, Mendenhall said that senior center Braden Hansen will not play Thursday due to his lingering groin injury. Sophomore Blair Tushaus, who started six games this season, will get the start Thursday.

"Blair's been doing snaps his whole life," Lark said. "I'm not worried about it. We haven't had any bad snaps out here at practice. None in the dirt. It will be good."

SLUGGISH PRACTICE: Mendenhall wasn't thrilled with the way his team practiced Monday.

"I thought it was a little sluggish, kind of transitional, I would say. I think we had a really good week last week," Mendenhall said. "But moving from the hotel to practicing here, a little bit different practice time in the morning, it wasn't quite as sharp as what I had expected or hoped for."

After practice, the Cougars visited the famous SeaWorld theme park.

For the coaching staff, one of the challenges will be helping the players avoid distractions.

"It's nice to have things to do that are the equivalent of SeaWorld and the zoo," Mendenhall said. "The key is managing the transitions from work to then switching the gears to have fun. The best teams that I've coached at bowl games, that's been the key to it. They've been able to make that transition successfully. I hope the players have a fantastic time, then when it's time to work, we need to make sure none of that is lingering in their minds."

Asked about his team's readiness level, Mendenhall replied, "Based on what I saw today, they need a few more days. When we left Provo, I was really comfortable with where they were. … Hopefully I can answer differently tomorrow."

Lark said Monday's practice was "a little sluggish, but that's to be expected. We're in a different altitude, a different city. We've got a lot of distractions. But I think guys came out with their minds right, ready to play. We traveled yesterday and had a lot of things going on. Maybe a little sluggish, but mentally, we're focused and dialed in."

EASY RIDER: It's no secret that one of Mendenhall's passions is riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

After Monday's practice, the team left on buses for the hotel. But Mendenhall and assistant coach Paul Tidwell rode out of Helix High on Harleys, on loan from a local dealership.

While strapping on his helmet and getting ready to leave, Mendenhall seemed bemused, if not annoyed, by the number of people snapping photos of him.

"If I don't come back, one of you can call the plays and see what it's like," Mendenhall joked with reporters as he rode away. "If we don't play good defense, I'll do the writing."

HELIX ALUMS: Helix High is the home of a bevy of famous athletes, including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, former USC star Reggie Bush and former UCLA basketball star Bill Walton.

Former BYU football players Leon White, Casey Tiamalu and Todd Watkins also played for Helix.

KAVEINGA ALL-STAR GAME BOUND: BYU senior linebacker Uona Kaveinga will play in the 2013 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 19 in Carson, Calif.

Kaveinga, a USC transfer, recorded 42 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, two pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery this season.

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