PROVO It's too soon to know how much impact O'Neill Chambers will have on BYU's offense this season.
But one thing's certain. The confident freshman wide receiver wants to make an impact as soon as possible.
With returning starter Austin Collie out since the start of fall camp with a stress fracture in his leg and Bryce Mahuika also sidelined with an injury, Chambers has been getting playing time with the first-team offense.
"I'm trying to learn the plays, get them down," said Chambers. "I just want to work hard, get bigger and faster and be able to get on the field."
He showed a glimpse of his abilities during last Saturday's scrimmage. The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder from Harmony, Fla., raced past the defensive secondary on a stop-and-go route, caught a 40-yard pass from quarterback Max Hall along the sidelines and would have scored had he been able to stay in-bounds.
But Chambers doesn't feel he's proven anything to this point.
"Not yet," he said. "It's just a scrimmage. This doesn't mean nothing, really. Game day will tell."
Reality is, Chambers, who arrived in Provo just three weeks ago, is just a couple of months removed from high school and he is still learning the offense. When he's not practicing, he's constantly studying the playbook. Asked what he needs to do to play this season, he replied, "My plays and my route-running. That's what I need to work on. I've got the speed and I've got the strength. I've got to learn my plays sleep with my (playbook) if I have to."
Chambers has relied on teammates like Collie and Michael Reed to assist him in making the transition to college football. "I look up to Mike Reed because he's helping me every step of the way. Collie as well," he said.
While Hall has plenty of weapons at his disposal, he likes the new one he has in Chambers.
"O'Neill kind of has a little bit of Mike Reed and Austin Collie in him. He's got a lot of raw talent," he said. "He just has to get better at his routes. He has to be crisper. But he catches the ball nicely, he's really good with his feet and he makes great moves with the ball. He just needs to learn the offense. From what the receivers have told me, he's a quick learner and he's picking things up well. Now, it's about sharpening things up. He's a freshman and he's only been here a few days. He'll have four weeks to get ready and hopefully he'll be a guy that helps us out. He's a guy who can be in the rotation and make plays for us."
Said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall of Chambers: "He is a young player who has tremendous talent, if he's able to maintain his assignment work. If his body remains healthy, if he can exercise the maturity necessary, he's capable physically."
"O'Neill Chambers is a smart kid, a very athletic kid," Collie said. "He came in here knowing what's expected of him."
Chambers, who caught 39 passes for 965 yards at Harmony High School, earned First-Team All-Central Florida honors. He was offered scholarships by Florida, Georgia, Clemson, Purdue and Texas Tech. Armed with those glossy credentials, Chambers comes to Provo with high expectations heaped upon him. However, BYU coaches caution that he needs time to learn.
"It's very hard for any freshman to come in and (make the) transition," said BYU receivers coach Patrick Higgins. "It's good to have expectations, but to place undue expectations on someone, I don't think that's fair to anybody. He's a talented person and he has a lot of potential. But you know what they say about potential it means you haven't done anything yet. We're working with him every day. He's very conscientious. He wants to do well. He's studying. His biggest limitation is how fast he can incorporate the mental process and the route-running and make it more of a reactionary than a thinking game. Then he'll improve."
At Harmony High, two of his coaches were former BYU players Tyler Anderson and Justin Anderson. They played a role in Chambers' decision to play for the Cougars, having brought him to a BYU football camp.
"O'Neill was intrigued with the area and the mountains and the facilities," recalled BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell. "We made an offer to him, then got him out here on a visit with his mom. His mom loved the program and the emphasis that coach Mendenhall has on living a good life and being a good football player on and off the field. Both he and his mom were sold on it and he committed on his visit."
Tyler Anderson is now an assistant coach at Southern Virginia University and Justin Anderson is an intern on BYU's staff. "(Chambers) is going to be great for BYU," Tyler Anderson told the Deseret News last February. "He is a phenomenal athlete. His speed is in the high 4.5 or 4.6 range but on the field, he has what you'd call football speed and he runs away from people who are supposed to be 4.3 guys."
So why did Chambers choose to go to school at a place so far from home?
"There are nice people out here. It's a new place," he said. "I came out here to try something new. I'm liking my teammates. I'm catching on pretty quick. I'm having fun with the other players and I'm trying to get the plays down as fast as I can. I just can't wait for the season to start."
Through the first week of fall camp, Chambers has turned heads.
"He looks good, doesn't he?" Tidwell said. "He's going to be a good one. He's got a great attitude and is working hard. He looks good in pads."Once he learns the offense, it should only be a matter of time before he makes an impact on the field.
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