Bronco Mendenhall rolled out his 17th-ranked Cougars for the first practice of fall football camp and, as the clouds rolled in to cover up the heat from a scorching sun, storylines started popping up all over the place.
Quarterback Max Hall, looking confident as a cat guarding a bird cage, said he shot a 76 at Riverside Country Club the other day and it marked the end of his free time for a while.
"He's, well, all of us are very anxious to get this thing started," said quarterback coach Brandon Doman.
Hall's sidekick, Austin Collie, had all the eyes of a media army on his right leg when he made his way onto the practice field after a report of a stress fracture ricocheted around Cougar Town the previous 12 hours. No, he didn't limp. No, he wasn't on crutches and no, his ailment isn't expected to keep him out of action long. Especially after magic kicks in.
On a campus known for clone-like students, Mendenhall allowed the traditional shaved haircut ritual to be just partially completed Saturday. You had all kinds of carved designs on top of noggins. Freshman linebacker Jefferson Court's head looked like a catalog page out of a tattoo parlor. One, walk-on lineman Lawrence Pico, left an Olive Oyl bun on the back of his head, and there were plenty of mohawks to scare the cafeteria folks at the dorms.
The Cougars were surprisingly active, considering they went to bed past midnight on Friday after a team activity, then were summoned around 4:30 a.m. Saturday for a jog up to Y mountain. There, Mendenhall drilled in to his players his patented theme and handed everyone a token, an actual coin, engraved with a player holding a banner representing the school.
Hall to tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Harvey Unga was bread and butter, but during a spirited 11-on-11 to conclude the day, the defense rose up and stopped Hall and company cold.
"I was impressed with our defense," Unga said. "We've taken it up a few notches over last year at this time as a team, but I was especially impressed with our defense. I was shocked, actually, because we are missing some pretty good guys off the team from a year ago and they really did well today."
Among the newcomers, it was hard to hide freshman defensive back Shiloah Te'o from Kahuku High in Hawaii. Te'o made plays all over the field and drew high praise from coordinator Jaime Hill.
Not bad for a first day's work.
The praise had nothing to do with the fact his kin, Manti Te'o from Honolulu, remains the Cougars' top recruit and one of the best Class of 2009 prep defenders in the country.
"He earned it," Unga said. "I was really shocked to see how good Te'o is. Boy, the kid can move, he's got a bright future ahead of him just by his looks and athleticism. It's not just him but a lot of the freshmen."
Also, it was tough to ignore Florida freshman receiver O'Neill Chambers, who spent a ton of time receiving instruction from Collie.
"He's impressive just walking around," recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell said.
Travis Bright, who had a horrendous broken leg last season, was running around as if he'd never missed a day since he was carried off the Sam Boyd Stadium turf on a stretcher last December in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Where middle linebacker Matt Bauman was missing because of a sore foot, former starter Matt Ah You stepped right in. "He's one of the hardest hitters I've faced," Unga said.
One of the more interesting faces was that of Pico, the freshman from Westchester, N.Y. who walked on, paid his own way, got himself admitted and hopes to make the team.
A year and a half ago, Pico and his mother showed up on campus right out of the blue. He then attended BYU's summer camp. A heavyweight wrestler, rugby player and football player for John Jay High School, he and his family have absolutely no connection with BYU, the LDS Church or the Cougar football program.
Stone-cold aliens to Provo.
Turns out Pico's father, who is an accomplished head-hunter in the national job market, took note that BYU graduates seem to get hired a lot, Lawrence said.
"We looked BYU up on the Internet and saw that it registered as a very good school," Lawrence said. "My mom came out here, loved the campus and the town and thought it would be a great place to go to school."
Then, the Pico family looked at the football program and somehow, through a minor miracle, found some games to watch.
"They had a great football program," said the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Lawrence.
"We didn't even know it was a Mormon school or anything, we just decided it would be a good fit for me, so I came."
"Quite a story," said Tidwell.
"With some work, he's got a chance," said O-line coach Mark Weber.
Optimism in BYU's camp was high, as expected, on Saturday.After all, like everybody else, the Cougars are absolutely undefeated.
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