PROVO For now, it's a thankless job. But BYU's Reed White is more than happy to do it.
The senior wide receiver, in an attempt to hone his skills, stayed after practice Monday to catch high, arching footballs designed to simulate punts out of the Jugs machine. He has spent plenty of extra time on that part of his game, catching punt after punt after punt. White's hard work in fall camp has been noticed by coach Bronco Mendenhall and White is being rewarded for his efforts.
Asked about who will handle punt return duties this season, Mendenhall said that it would be difficult to remove White from that role.
"I'm not sure you can blast him out of there with dynamite because he's outworking his opponents," he said. "Is he the most talented? That could be up for debate. But all we need is 10 yards per return. If he's getting 20 catches before anyone else gets out here, my tendency is to trust him."
Last season, Bryce Mahuika returned most of the punts, returning 21 punts for 143 yards (6.8 yards per attempt). But Mahuika has missed much of fall camp with injuries. In 2007, White returned two punts for five yards. Still, White is making the most of his opportunity to show what he can do. He just wants to be on the field somehow, someway.
"I've pretty much made it clear from the beginning that my role here is whatever it needs to be, in wherever the coaches or players see fit that I might contribute the best," said the 5-foot-10, 190- pounder from Gilbert, Ariz. "That's kind of the role I'll take on. Whether it be punt returns or kick returns or offense, or wherever, I'm just ready to go, wherever they need me."
During the offseason, White did all he could to be considered for more playing time. The players who receive opportunities to perform on the field "won't always be the demonstrated ability on the field," Mendenhall explained. "Sometimes it will be the best work ethic and diligence. Our program is built on that. It will take a combination of ability and work ethic for a player to be trusted in those roles."
White is the cousin of Cougar quarterback Max Hall and the son of former Dallas Cowboys QB and former Utah Blaze coach Danny White. He transferred from Arizona State a couple of years ago and has been trying to find his role within BYU's program since that time.
"I never intended to come to BYU," White said. "So when I came, I had to walkon and I've had to prove myself that way. It hasn't always been exactly what I wanted it to be, but at the same time, I'm happy where I'm at and ready at any opportunity to contribute wherever they'll allow me to do so."
White's style as a punt returner is similar to former Cougar Nate Meikle. "He's someone who could make guys miss and just get straight up field," White said. "You see it in the NFL and on a lot of college teams, guys who are flashy and run around in circles. That's really not my thing. If I can be consistent in getting at least 10 yards a return just straight up field, that will be huge for our offense to get a little advantage in that way."
POSITION SWITCH: After being impressed by freshman Daniel Sorensen during last Saturday's scrimmage, BYU coaches decided to move him from safety to outside linebacker. "Daniel Sorensen was one of the highlights of the scrimmage, not only on special teams, but just the way he's playing defense," Mendenhall said. "When you look at the mold of who we're looking for at that spot, we've played our best defense with guys like (former Cougar) Bryan Kehl and (current linebacker) David Nixon on the edges."
"(Freshmen) Mike Alisa and Daniel Sorensen are kind of the heir apparents and body type. We think his future is there. We'll try to feed him the defense as fast as we can. He's not afraid and he's anxious to contribute. He's already shown he can be a special teams player at least for us. This gives us a chance to train him for now and for the future."
BACKUP BATTLE: Sophomore quarterback Kurt McEuen is making a serious push at being Hall's backup. Initially, Brenden Gaskins had the edge, but McEuen, a Wasatch High product, has made significant improvement.
"From the very first day of fall camp, when Brenden Gaskins was very strong and came back confident and poised since that day, Kurt McEuen has just chipped away, chipped away, chipped away," Mendenhall said. " I would say (Saturday's scrimmage) was just another day doing of what Kurt does, that's just inching closer. It's very close right now."
The Cougars might hold one more scrimmage on Wednesday to determine who will be the backup QB.
CAPTAINS NAMED: BYU's football team voted last week on the team captains for the year and the names were announced today during Monday afternoon's team meeting. Here are the captains: linebacker David Nixon, defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen, quarterback Max Hall and offensive lineman Travis Bright.EXTRA POINTS: The Walter Camp Football Foundation has announced Hall is one of 35 "players to watch" for its player of the year award, the nation's fourth-oldest individual college football accolade ... The Cougars will not hold practice Thursday as coaches spend time in meetings finalizing the game plan for the season-opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30 ... Friday, BYU will hold its first practice in preparation for the Panthers ... Defensive lineman Ian Dulan, who is suffering from shoulder inflammation, has missed out on drills for several days ... Offensive lineman Tom Sorensen, who has an injured shoulder, participated in contact drills Monday. "We could use him at center or guard. That's a positive," Mendenhall said ... Said the coach of freshman receiver O'Neill Chambers: "The longer we're around O'Neill Chambers, the more spectacular plays he'll make."
First down: The Cougars closed out two-a-days with a pair of practices Monday.
Head-turner: Freshman Daniel Sorensen made his first appearance at outside linebacker after being switched from safety prior to practice. Cornerback Brandon Bradley made a diving interception of a Max Hall pass during the morning session, stepping in front of receiver Tyler Kozlowski.Injury report: Safety David Tafuna returned to practice after being sidelined with a concussion. Offensive lineman Tom Sorensen (shoulder) participated in drills. Cornerback G Pittman was held out again due to a concussion. Matt Ah You was out with a neck stinger.