Last fall we told you about how Mike O'Brien spent the entire off-season furiously whipping himself into shape following surgery to repair a major knee injury. Alas, O'Brien, one of BYU's top running backs and kick returners, disappeared from the lineup the second half of the season. This time he was felled by a stress fracture in the bottom of right his foot.
"It's just taken a long time to heal," says O'Brien, a fifth-year senior who has missed the last five games.The injury originally occured in the third game of the season - "The doctors said it probably happened because I was compensating for the knee. I was pushing off with my foot instead of my knee." O'Brien continued to play with the aid of local painkilling injections until doctors finally refused to inject the foot anymore, fearing further damage.
"It's been frustrating," says O'Brien. "Something is telling me to quit playing this game."
But O'Brien, who has maintained his conditioning with the help of an exercise bike and the weight room, is not finished yet. He will return punts in the Freedom Bowl in place of injured Rodney Rice. Body willing, he hopes to try out for the Canadian Football League next summer.
*** Freshman Tommy Young, the third of the Young brothers to play quarterback at BYU, got off to a dubious start this season. Playing behind freshmen Scott Shreve and Chris Hoge, Young completed just 15 of 43 passes for 146 yards, three interceptions and no touchdowns.
"I've got a lot of work to do," says Tommy, who finds comfort in the fact that his brothers, Steve and Mike, were in much the same position as BYU freshmen. "I came out of a running program in high school and I ran the ball a lot, like my brothers . . . We ran the run and shoot (offense) - we ran a lot of run. Just like Steve, I think it will take me time to get the system down and work out the kinks."
But all that must wait. Tommy will spend the next two years on an LDS church mission in Toronto, beginning Jan. 25. "I just want to keep working hard and hope I get a shot when I come back from my mission," says Young, who has some of the same promising traits of Steve, the NFL quarterback - namely speed ("We raced last summer and we were exactly the same," says Tom) and good size (6-1, 185).
Like Steve, who has often claimed that he was BYU's eighth-string quarterback as a BYU freshman, Tommy finds himself behind the competition. Hoge, who was BYU's No. 3 varsity quarterback, completed 40 of 101 passes for 599 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Shreve completed 37 of 84 passes for 752 yards, six TDs and five interceptions.
*** Speaking of freshmen, how did Rocky Biegel, the heralded linebacker, fare in his first year at the major college level? Playing in a reserve role, he was in on 21 tackles (nine unassisted) and had one interception and one starting assignment. He also settled on a position. He began the year as an inside linebacker, then moved outside to compensate for injuries at that position, and finally was returned inside.
"I'm inside for good now," he says. "That's where I'll stay. I think I'll get a chance to play next year."
Biegel, who was a high school football and wrestling All-American, won't return to wrestling - "I burned out on it in high school," he says. Instead, the 6-2, 225-pounder hopes to add 10 pounds with an off-season weight lifting program.