PROVO — After missing almost all of last season with a knee injury, BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton is eager make up for lost time as his senior campaign approaches.
The Bingham High product hurt his knee in a 31-16 loss at Utah State, which dropped the Cougars' record to a dismal 1-4. The day after that setback, coach Bronco Mendenhall took over as the team's defensive coordinator and BYU ended up winning six of its final eight games.
Pendleton can't wait to play for Mendenhall.
"He completely turned our team around, our defense especially," he said during BYU's media day earlier this month. "We went from being one of the worst defenses in the league statistically to one of the top. I'm happy he's our coordinator. I'm just excited to get back on the field and play."
For Mendenhall, the feeling is mutual. "I'm anxious to have Jordan back after being hurt a year ago," he said.
In recent months, Pendleton has undergone both knee and shoulder surgeries. He was sidelined for spring drills but expects to participate when BYU opens fall camp on Aug. 6.
"I'm feeling really good right now, the best I've felt in a while," he said. "I expect to be able to do everything. The first couple of days I may have to work my way into some drills. I haven't hit for a while. But I don't want it to be like fall camp last year, when I didn't hit anybody until the Washington game. I'm further along than the previous year."
The Cougars are loaded at the linebacker position, with Pendleton, Uona Kaveinga, Jameson Frazier, Brandon Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy, Austin Jorgensen and Spencer Hadley in the mix.
"It's the most depth we've had since I've been here," Pendleton said. "We have a lot of players who can play middle and outside. Not only are we athletic and talented, but we love playing the game and we love playing with each other. We have a knack for playing with each other."
After sitting out last season, Kaveinga, a transfer from USC, is expected to make a big impact on the BYU defense this fall.
"I haven't played in a game with Uona, but when we're playing 7-on-7, it's like we can read each other's minds," Pendleton said. "We don't really have to talk. We feed off each other. It's a weird bond. We have a lot of depth and talent and we have the opportunity to be one of the best linebacking corps that's ever played here."
RIVALRY GAME TALK: With this year's BYU-Utah game being played on Sept. 17 in Provo, fans won't have to wait long to watch the longtime rivals collide.
The Cougars are entering their first year as an independent while the Utes are starting their first year in the Pac-12.
"This upcoming game will be as heavily awaited and anticipated of a BYU-Utah game as maybe ever because of the changes that have happened," said Cougar offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "For the long term, this year it will be a significant football game. From that point on, I'm anxious to see what it turns out to be. I can't go anywhere without somebody making a remark or feeling the strength of that rivalry right now. It certainly hasn't gone away."