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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars tight end Devin Mahina (84) goes down hard hard by helmet-to-helmet hit by Utah Utes cornerback Brian Blechen (2) in college football action in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010.

PROVO — The stunning news of Devin Mahina's neck injury spread quickly on social networking sites Tuesday afternoon.

That's because the BYU sophomore tight end posted a photo of himself wearing a neck brace — and a smile.

Turns out, Mahina hurt his neck during a collision in a scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, according to coach Bronco Mendenhall. Multiple X-rays were taken of Mahina's neck, but after he did not respond to rehab and tests, he underwent a CT scan Tuesday morning, which revealed a small fracture.

"He practiced two weeks with it," said Mendenhall.

Head trainer Kevin Morris said Mahina had been suffering some neck stinger symptoms before the fracture was discovered. He added that Mahina will see a specialist soon to determine if surgery is necessary.

"It's too early to say whether it's anything that would keep him out more than just this season," Morris said. "I think it's a season-ender."

It's a bad break for Mahina, who caught 11 passes for 118 yards last season.

"It's an unfortunate injury. We're happy that we found it and that he didn't get injured any worse than he did," said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "Anytime there's a fracture in any part of your neck, that's pretty scary. The wrong twist or the wrong hit could have been real severe … Imagine having a fracture in your neck and hitting guys every day for two weeks."

It's also a bad break for the Cougars, who travel to Ole Miss for Saturday's season-opener.

Mahina is expected to be out for 10-12 weeks, but he does have a redshirt available, said Mendenhall. The coach added that if not for the injury, Mahina "would have played for us this season."

"He's a tough young man and he wanted to play," Doman said. "It was hard for him to find out that he wasn't going to play this year."

Sophomore Austin Holt has locked down the starting tight end job and he will be backed up by sophomore Richard Wilson. Sophomore Marcus Mathews has been playing a hybrid tight end

wide receiver position.

But the loss of Mahina "makes us thin" at tight end, Mendenhall said. Another tight end, sophomore Kaneakua Friel, is returning from a hamstring injury he suffered during fall camp.

"That's helpful," Mendenhall said. "He's not all the way back, but that would give us a third tight end, which is bare minimum."

OTHER INJURIES: Freshman offensive lineman Ryker Mathews, listed as a backup at left tackle, is suffering from turf toe but is expected to be available Saturday. Fullback Zed Mendenhall is also in a boot due to a sprained ankle. Morris said Mendenhall's status against Ole Miss will be determined on game day.

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Meanwhile, placekicker Justin Sorensen is dealing with lower back strain and did not kick Tuesday. "I think he'll be fine," Morris said. Sorensen hurt his back while putting on his shoes, then "he felt his back lock up on him," according to Morris.

PERSONNEL NOTES: Defensive lineman Thomas Bryson won't be returning to school until January, coach Mendenhall said. Defensive lineman Matt Putnam was readmitted to school Monday, but now has to petition the NCAA for eligibility for his senior year.

Safety Kori Gaines is back practicing with BYU as a walk-on and scout team player. Wide receiver O'Neill Chambers is still on track to rejoin the Cougars in January, Mendenhall said.

email: jeffc@desnews.com