PROVO — For freshman O'Neill Chambers, the dream of playing college football for BYU was quite literal.

The Florida native said he never dreamed of playing for the Cougars in a figurative sense — his favorite team growing up was Miami (Fla.) — but during his junior year of high school, while he slept, he had dreams that featured him playing for BYU.

"I thought it was a sign," Chambers recalled. "My dream school was Miami. But my mom didn't let me go there. I didn't care about any other school. I just came (to BYU) because I was thinking, 'If I'm having dreams about playing here, they must be telling me something.'"

When BYU hosts Northern Iowa Saturday, Chambers' dreams will be realized. He will open the season as one of the team's primary kick returners, along with Reed White. It's a role Chambers is thrilled about.

In fact, he said he has guaranteed coach Bronco Mendenhall and special teams/receivers coach Patrick Higgins that he will return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown. The Cougars haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a decade — not since Mike Rigell accomplished the feat against Hawaii in 1998.

"I told the coaches last week when I found out I was first-string," he said. "I guaranteed them either a kick return or a punt return for a touchdown. They said, 'You better live up to that because if you guarantee it, you'd better do it. It hasn't been done for a while.' I said, 'Coach, I guarantee it. I know I can do it.' They said, 'You make sure you're practicing catching the ball first.'"

In high school, Chambers enjoyed returning kicks — he returned three for TDs at Harmony High — when he could. "In high school, kick returning was my specialty," he said. "Kickers and punters stopped kicking to me."

Chambers is looking forward to playing at 64,000-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium. The largest crowd he's played in front of to this point was about 2,000.

"I'm just excited because I play a lot better when there are more people watching. I jump higher, hit harder, run faster. I'm just going to go all-out and show people what I can really do," Chambers said. "There's a lot more adrenaline pumping through me during games.

Everybody will see. It's hard for me to explain. I'm just going to go out there and do it. Instead of saying what I can do, I want to show what I can do."

As much as he likes catching the ball and running with it, what he likes most, he said, is hitting.

"My favorite thing is hitting. I like getting the ball, dropping my head and hitting somebody. Touchdowns are okay. But I love to hit," Chambers said. "Coach Higgins tries to tell me to calm down sometimes because I'm hitting too much. He says, 'You're not a linebacker. You're a receiver.' I just like being physical and using my elusiveness as well. I'm just waiting for the big hit. I'm waiting for somebody to hit me or I'm hitting somebody."

NEWCOMERS MAKING AN IMPACT: In addition to Chambers, several other newcomers are expected to contribute this season. Chambers, in addition to being a starting kick returner, is listed as a backup to Austin Collie at receiver. Freshmen Daniel Sorensen and Iona Pritchard are on the second-team at linebacker, as is Shiloah Te'o at safety. Another freshman, Justin Sorensen, is expected to handle kickoffs.

"I really think our staff did a nice job this year of recruiting freshmen that we added to the program," Mendenhall said. "On any given year, there are usually two or three that you look to and say that we may have mis-evaluated them either athletically or motivationally or just how the fit was going to be. This particular year, I feel very good about it. I credit our coaches and their evaluations."

Two junior college transfers, defensive lineman Bernard Afutiti and safety Andrew Rich, are also expected to see plenty of playing time this season.

BRIGHT IDEAS: BYU offensive lineman Travis Bright said Dallas Reynolds has made a smooth transition from left guard to center during fall camp.

"There is a big learning curve you have to recognize as a center to start the protection calls," Bright said. "Dallas has done extremely well recognizing things and calling the blitzes out."

Freshman Matt Reynolds, Dallas' younger brother, is now the starting left guard. "He has picked up on the tackle position," Bright said of Matt. "During fall camp, there were things we were learning. Now, we're moving right along and things are running smooth. Having Dallas move from tackle to center, knowing the type of leader and athlete he is, I think that was the smartest choice to move him to center. He'll definitely show what he can do at any position."

BYU VS. FCS FOES: The Cougars have played three teams from the Football Championship Subdivision since 1998 with wins over Murray State (1998), Eastern Illinois (2005) and Eastern Washington (2007). Northern Iowa will be the fourth. BYU defeated those three FCS teams by an average score of 43.3-8.7.

NORTHERN IOWA'S PAYDAY: Northern Iowa will reportedly receive $375,000 for playing at BYU, according to the Des Moines Register.

Season opener

BYU vs. Northern Iowa

Saturday, 4 p.m.

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160 AM; 102.7 FM


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com