It's the second week on the job for BYU's newest football coach; the only one on the staff who is being called "Coach" for the first time in his life. With spring practices still a few weeks away, Ben Cahoon is taking this time to get to know the receivers he will soon be mentoring.
"I need to become more familiar with them, and they need to become more familiar with me before any effective coaching is going to take place," says Cahoon, whose previous familiarity with his new charges came during a few of his offseason workouts.
"People have said that I've worked out with these receivers for years and years and it's really not true; I've done very little with them," Cahoon says. "I've needed a quarterback each spring as I've prepared for my (CFL) season, so the only reason I've gotten to know these kids is I've been mooching off their quarterback."
Cahoon likes what he sees from a group of BYU receivers that includes two of the top three pass-catchers from last season. Among returning wideouts, Cody Hoffman led BYU with 527 yards and seven touchdowns, while McKay Jacobson accounted for 410 yards and a score. Redshirt freshman Ross Apo is expected to join those two in forming the Cougars' primary receiving trio in 2011.
"My initial impression is that we have a ton of potential," says Cahoon. "I see it in them, and they think they know what they can do, but they have no idea how good they can get and how good they're going to be expected to become."
Known as a tireless technician and precise route-runner, Cahoon aspires to transfer his knowledge to players he says "have all the athletic tools."
"They've been good based on athleticism alone, and I'm excited to see that athleticism combined with the real mastery of the position," says Cahoon. "The emphasis on the technique and fundamentals of running a route is going to turn them into dominating players."
Last year, BYU's early-season travails were exemplified by receivers who struggled with numerous dropped balls. Renowned for his Velcro hands, Cahoon said it was during his final CFL season that he himself went through a "deep slump." For Cahoon, that consisted of dropping one pass in each of two consecutive games (also getting a hand on two other passes he didn't catch), at a time when he was seeing fewer balls come his way.
"I've never handled drops well, but this was as bad as it has ever been. It took everything I could think of to get out of it; it took prayer, I ordered sports psychology books, I caught extra passes every single day, I went through daily affirmations — I was like (fictional Stuart Smalley) from Saturday Night Live: 'you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.' Over time, I worked my way out of it."
Cahoon says those are the kinds of professional experiences that give him the ability to assist receivers learning the physical and mental aspects of pass-catching at the college level.
"It's not going to happen overnight, and it's not going to be easy," says Cahoon of turning BYU's receivers into consistently dependable playmakers. "I am not going to punish people for dropping the ball, but there will be consequences. I'm not going to say 'every time you drop the ball you owe me 10 push-ups'; I'm not going to dwell on the negative aspect of dropping the pass. If you drop a pass, then you are going to get the chance to go catch 25 balls on the 'Jugs' machine."
Cahoon said whenever he dropped a pass, he was desperate for more opportunities, "so that's what's going to happen. If you drop a ball in practice, you're going to get what you need, and that's more practice catching; it's not push-ups, and it's not running laps."
The CFL's all-time leading receiver says he also plans to introduce mental and psychological exercises-visualizations that will build his players' confidence to the point that they're "not nervous about dropping the ball; you're just anxious to get out there and make plays. You can't approach a game thinking 'I hope I don't drop this.' You can't approach the line of scrimmage with that mindset. You've got to have the attitude of 'throw me the ball, I'm going to catch it.' "
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU Football and Basketball seasons. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org