PROVO BYU quarterback Max Hall and tight end Dennis Pitta have been good friends for a while, but their bond became even stronger a few weeks ago. That's when Pitta married his wife, Mataya, whose sister, Mckinzi, is married to Hall. In other words, Hall and Pitta are brothers-in-law.
"This just ties him into the family," Hall said with a smile.
The Hall-Pitta connection is the kind of family reunion that should give opposing defenses fits.
"Dennis and I are good buds and what's good about that is, it translates on the field," said Hall, who, along with Mckinzi, introduced Pitta to Mataya. "We have good chemistry. I know where he's going to be all of the time. He's really good at getting open. He's a big, physical guy. When you have a tight end like that, who's dominant over the middle and poses a threat and catches a lot of balls, it opens everything else up. He's a hard worker and he's reliable. We're lucky to have him and I'm lucky to have him as a target."
Both players say their relationship hasn't changed since becoming in-laws.
"It's nice to have a good friend in the family," said Pitta, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior. "We've always been good friends. We still hang out all the time. It's good to have someone you can relate to on your in-law's side. It's fun."
And they have fun on the field, too. Last season, Pitta caught a team-high 59 passes (for 813 yards and five touchdowns) from Hall.
Still, Pitta has worked hard, looking for ways to improve.
"My main focus this off-season was getting stronger in the weight room," he said. "Obviously, that relates to blocking and being more physical at the line of scrimmage. That's where my focus has been. I'm trying to get a cleaner release and be a little more dominant on the blocking end. It's been a good off-season. I'm excited to be back and get things going."
As if it weren't enough to have Pitta to throw to, Hall is blessed with another standout tight end, junior Andrew George, who hauled in 17 passes for 200 yards in 2007. While George is less-heralded than Pitta, he had the opportunity to exhibit his skills in last Saturday's scrimmage, catching four passes for 79 yards.
"Andrew has proven that he's capable of making plays and catching the ball," Hall said. "What's nice is, now, as you saw a little bit last year, we can use them both at the same time in a deuce formation, have them on both sides. Then it becomes really tough for opposing defenses because not only do they have to worry about our tight ends, they've got to worry about out guys on the outside and they have to worry about (running back) Harvey (Unga). We're going to try to use them in different ways and get them the ball as much as we can."
When Bronco Mendenhall became BYU's head coach four years ago, re-establishing the tradition of greatness at tight end was one of many aspects of the program he wanted to emphasize. It looks like that is happening.
"They're just big, fast and great targets with experience," Mendenhall said of Pitta and George.
What's more, the Cougars are breaking in a couple more promising players at the tight end position during fall camp. Freshmen Kaneakua Friel and Braden Brown are still learning the offense, but they both appear to have bright futures.
"When you add Kaneakua, he's the next in line," Mendenhall said. "He's one of the fastest players on our team. We have a great tradition of tight ends here. With Braden Brown coming up as well, I think we're in good shape."
"We have some young players who are learning," George said. "We have some great depth and guys coming up."
The Cougars also have a couple more outstanding prospects who are serving missions in Austin Holt and Devin Mahina.
In Pitta's case, he didn't always look like tight end material. At Moorpark High School in California, Pitta, who weighed around 200 pounds, played receiver and cornerback. He caught 64 passes for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. When he arrived at BYU, he was switched to tight end."It's been a real big adjustment from high school," Pitta said. "As a wide receiver, you don't do a whole lot of blocking, especially on the line. You just stay out and mess around with little corners. When I came here it was a big change for me. I had to go to a three-point stance, blocking defensive ends, blocking outside linebackers. I've had to learn the blocking schemes and how everything works. It was tough for me the first couple of years. Now I feel like I've got a grasp on it."