PROVO — BYU’s media day last month brought with it the typical buzz associated with the team and its prospects for the coming season. The team returns a lot of veteran players who are likely due for improvement along with some up-and-comers, who were talked about with optimism by both coaches and players.
So which players seem to have created the most buzz with their offseason workouts and otherwise?
Here’s a look at 10 such players who would be smart stock buys for those looking for some quick gains heading into the 2014 football season.
Brown is a bruiser and a “jack of all trades,” according to running backs coach Mark Atuaia. A standout during most practice sessions, the sophomore running back is set to play a big role within BYU’s offense this season.
Last season, fans saw a glimpse of what Brown is capable of given his 234 rushing yards and two touchdowns playing as a redshirt freshman.
Quote: “Algie is a lot like the typical running backs BYU has had in years past. A guy like Harvey Unga, or a Manase Tonga — a player who can do a variety of things and run with a lot of strength and power. Also a guy who can catch the football and block well. We’re looking for all that from Algie, and I think he could have a special year for us,” said Atuaia.
Fusi was able to contribute almost immediately last season despite having missed most of fall practices waiting to be cleared academically as a junior college transfer. This year hold no setbacks for the assumed starting center along with what looks to be a vastly improved offensive front.
Fusi’s buzz started in earnest during spring practices and has continued into the summer workout period.
Quote: “Fuse (Fusi) is the man. He’s like a bulldog, and he’s real intelligent in knowing everyone’s assignment, and he’s a true leader that way. He’s always been a good football player, but now that he’s in shape and has a year under his belt — he’s going to get it done this year. No doubt,” said offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley.
If you’re looking for an influx of attitude and physicality along the BYU offensive front, look no further than Kanuch. The freshman switched over from the defense in spring and was received immediately by coaches and teammates as a potentially huge component to the offensive line’s overall success this coming season.
Quote: “Tuni adds that hard edge to our room that helps everyone. Guys start fighting more when they have that and when they’re surrounded by it. That’s what Tuni brings, and we’re going to benefit huge from it and we already saw some of that in spring,” said offensive line coach Garett Tujague.
It was well noted throughout spring that Kurtz had to climb a steep learning curve, which limited his overall practice production initially. Toward the end of the practice session, however, the highly recruited junior college prospect began to show why schools such as USC and Oregon offered him out of Grossmont Junior College.
Now with a good grasp of the offense, Kurtz is an excellent buy as someone who could explode into a top offensive option his first year in Provo.
Quote: “Nick is smart and after three weeks of fast study he just did his thing in spring. I mean, we saw it immediately in other drills, but when things started clicking for him with how we do things, you started to see him make big plays. That’s only going to get better and better this fall, and I’m excited for him. I’m excited about how much he can help us this year,” said receiver Mitch Mathews.
It’s somewhat risky to buy stock in someone yet to complete even one practice session, such as Leslie, but those who know best (coaches and players) are completely sold. A veteran player with three years under his belt at UTEP, big things are expected for the transfer in his only season playing for the Cougars.
Quote: “You can see it immediately when he’s out there working out. He’s a lot like (Kurtz) in that you can immediately know he’s a player capable of big things. He’s going to experience some learning this fall, but it helps that he’s been in a college system before,” said Mathews.
Houk had one of the best springs of any offensive player, according to coaches and players, and is expected to continue that progress this fall and into the season. Houk looks to become a top option at inside receiver position, or hybrid tight end spot, where his strong hands and physicality could pay big dividends.
Quote: “I loved seeing Terenn progress, and he’s definitely someone I feel comfortable with and someone we’re beginning to learn we can count on. I think he could absolutely play a big role in this offense and what we do,” said quarterback Taysom Hill.
Most of the buzz at the outside linebacker position has surrounded converted defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, and with good reason. Don't sleep on Fua, who showed flashes of great potential last season as a primary playmaker on defense in the mold of Kyle Van Noy.
The best news on Fua may involve his weight that is finally approaching 235 pounds, according to players and coaches. The added weight should add considerably to his durability and versatility at one of the outside linebacker positions.
Quote: "Alani is going to turn a lot of heads this year. He played great last year I thought, but this year — he's just ready to take it to a whole different level I think. He's going to be big for us," said inside linebacker Manoa Pikula.
Pikula is an easy buy for those looking for immediate gains in overall production. As the lone returner with any amount of significant game time experience, the junior linebacker is already looked at as a leader on the defense.
Quote: “He’s really embraced the role as much as anyone I’ve had here. He’s had some great guys — guys who did things right to watch and emulate — but Manoa, maybe more so than most, really wants that role as leader and just genuinely loves football. He loves everything involved with the game. I think he’s going to become the whole package for us," said inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell.
Stout arrived at BYU with big expectations but hit a roadblock and got dismissed from the team for a year. He's back now with a new attitude and made huge gains at inside linebacker and will be one of the two assumed starters beginning fall practices.
Considering the vast amount of inexperience at the position, the senior linebacker looks set for plenty of playing time this season.
Quote: "Zac had a tremendous spring and that has continued into the offseason. I couldn't be happier for him and the great resolve he's shown. We're excited about his play and what he can add to the defense," said Tidwell.
Tuiloma showed a lot of potential as a true freshman before serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He returned slight of frame, but added a lot of good weight since spring practices that should allow him to vie for the starting role at nose tackle.
Quote: "Travis is looking great and should be around 285 entering the season. He showed good during spring and with that added weight he could really help us. Nose tackle is a critical position for us, and it's great to see his progress," said defensive coordinator Nick Howell.