PROVO — BYU offensive line coach Garett Tujague remembers the game well.
In 1990 the Cougars were romping their way through Western Athletic Conference play when they matched up against Air Force on the road in November. In bitterly cold weather, Tujague and his BYU teammates planned to employ a bully type approach against the seemingly overmatched and undersized Falcons.
That bully attitude quickly turned to shock after the very first snap.
“I remember going out there and hitting this kid and I felt like I was hitting a 10,000-watt electric transformer,” said Tujague, a starting offensive lineman at the time. “It shocked me and I was (thinking), 'There’s no way this guy can keep this up for 60 minutes.' But until the last time I hit him in the fourth quarter it was like hitting that same electric transformer.”
Tujague took a lot of lessons from the game that helped shape his playing career and coaching philosophy — the main lesson being that simple will can overcome seemingly overwhelming physical and athletic superiority.
It’s a lesson Tujague has attempted to instill in his offensive linemen since arriving at BYU just prior to spring practices.
His players seem to be catching on.
“The culture is different now. The coaches are a lot more intense and a lot more emotional,” said sophomore offensive lineman Ryker Mathews. “They’re doing a great job changing the culture and changing us, as players, to be more emotionally attached to our position and to take things personally when things don’t go right. I think it’s exactly what we need.”
Mathews enters the 2013 season as the most likely starter along the offensive front. He's projected to start again at left tackle. Due to offseason surgery, the 6-foot-6, 292-pound lineman sat out spring practices and had to watch Tujague’s brutal practice regimen.
“It’s not fun having to sit there and watch your teammates go through that,” Mathews said. “You see guys being pushed like that, throwing up, and you feel bad because those are your brothers out there and you want to be a part of it. I’m anxious to get back out there with them and I think we’re going to become a great offensive line this year.”
Through sitting in meetings and watching practice sessions, Mathews has been fully briefed on what Tujague expects of his largely inexperienced offensive linemen.
“We can control our effort and we can control our attitude and my guys will control those things,” Tujague said. “We want to match and even surpass the intensity BYU has shown on defense since coach (Bronco) Mendenhall has been here. We need to set the tone of the team and never show weakness. It starts with us.”
As far as the group goes, Mathews believes setting that tone starts with him. As the most experienced offensive lineman returning for 2013, he’s become the de facto leader of BYU O-linemen.
“It’s a role I never thought I’d be in as a sophomore, but it is what it is,” Mathews said. “I feel healthy and I’m ready to go. I’ve been out way too long and I’m dying to be back out there. I’m ready to give it my all for coach Tujague and coach (Robert) Anae. I believe their coaching philosophy and their intensity is exactly what this offense needs.”
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