PROVO — BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia is doing a lot of yelling these days, and that’s a good thing.
Raising his voice isn’t born out of constant frustration — far from it. According to Atuaia, it’s simply the product of greater trust between himself and the players he coaches.
“See that guy over there,” Atuaia said nodding his head in the direction of junior running back Jamaal Williams during BYU’s football media day last month. “I can tell that kid whatever I want now. I can yell at him, I can joke with him, I can talk to him man to man. And he can do the same with me. The trust is there. All the ambiguity is gone now.”
Atuaia is entering his second year coaching the running backs and feels completely committed to the task after spending several years working in various administrative capacities and as an unpaid assistant coach at BYU.
With a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in jurisprudence, the former BYU running back could be pursuing a variety of professional opportunities. However, he jumped on the chance to be offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s first hire two winters ago.
According to Atuaia, that first year of coaching brought with it a lot of acclimation from not only the players, but the coaches.
“It wasn’t just the players being trained in the new system, but all of us coaches and probably especially me having spent my first year coaching full time,” he said. “Now that we’re through that, I’m telling you, it’s exciting and we’re going to let our play speak for itself.”
A huge aspect of being an assistant coach involves recruiting — something that came naturally to Atuaia as other coaches assumed it would.
“Everyone always told me I’d love recruiting and I’d be real good at it, but I wasn’t sure at all when I started,” he said. “But you know, turns out they were right. I love it and I’ve become passionate about. I love sitting down and just having a conversation — just one-on-one, man to man, talking about and spreading the word of BYU football. It doesn’t get any better than that for me.”
As for the players currently in the program, Atuaia believes his group of running backs is not only talented, but very committed to the program and getting better.
The running backs are fronted by four stalwarts who all enjoyed success last season — Williams, Paul Lasike, Algie Brown and Adam Hine. All four are improving daily, according to Atuaia, while getting yelled at along the way.
“I probably yell at Algie more than anyone because he’s the type of guy who could get lost in a room,” Atuaia said. “He’s real laid back and always seems to fade into the background, but man, he’s a very talented player and multifaceted in what he can do for us. So yeah, I spend a lot of time yelling at him, motivating him, because I can see his great potential. If I’m not yelling at you that’s when you should worry.”
Coming out of spring it was Williams, Lasike and Brown getting the bulk of the work while Hine sat out nursing an injury. Now that he's fully healthy again, Hine has a lot of work to make up, but Atuaia is confident he'll be equal to the task.
"Adam is working hard and he has a great attitude," Atuaia said. "He knows he's behind and he knows the other three are very talented and motivated. But I love his spirit and I love his potential."
With a full year of acclimation to the new system and each other under their belts, Atuaia believes the running backs, and the team in general, are set to have a great season in 2014.
“I think the players now understand my commitment and I tell them all the time there’s a lot of things I could be doing right now, but nothing to me is more important. There’s nothing I want more than to be here coaching them,” he said. “I believe in everything we’re doing here and I believe the players do as well. It’s why I think we’re set to have a special year.”
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