PROVO — During his playing career as an undersized wide receiver in college and the Canadian Football League, Ben Cahoon was a classic overachiever, compensating for perceived weaknesses by always working hard, and never taking anything for granted.
"Well, I have short man's syndrome," Cahoon explained with a smile.
Now, as BYU's receivers coach, he's trying to instill that same scrappy attitude and dogged determination in his players.
"If we can get our tall guys to play like they've got short man's syndrome," Cahoon continued, "then we'll be in good shape."
Those tall guys include Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo, but Cahoon is also coaching diminutive guys, like JD Falslev. What Cahoon is stressing to all of them is the importance of continually improving.
"You can't ever be content. You can't ever be satisfied," said Cahoon, who is in his second season on BYU's coaching staff. "Frankly, none of our guys have accomplished anything yet to rest on their laurels. Cody wants to improve on last year, as do Ross and JD. I've really appreciated their effort and attitude this fall. And the young guys are competing really well and pushing them. We have healthy competition, and it's fun to watch."
Last season, Hoffman, Apo and Falslev were BYU's three leading receivers. Hoffman caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns; Apo had 34 receptions for 453 yards and nine TDs; and Falslev hauled in 31 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
Cahoon demands the same from all of his receivers, regardless of their stature or physique. And he expects his tall receivers to do what the smaller ones can do.
"I try to get them to run routes like I would, and to burst into their breaks, eliminate wasted movement and go attack the ball," said Cahoon, who is the CFL's all-time receptions leader. "There are challenges with taller guys. They can't get in and out of a break like a quicker, smaller guy usually. But I treat them like they need to and I expect them to. Hopefully it pushes them. They're running better routes. Cody's run some really fun routes, bursting into his breaks, sinking his hips, throwing his shoulders, and breaking it off on a dime on his comeback routes. It's been awesome, fun to watch. I think Cody's had a nice camp. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, as is Ross and JD. Those guys are hungry and trying to take their games up a notch. I think they're working in a way that it's going to be possible."
Cahoon is happy with the performance from all of his receivers.
"I'm really pleased. They're working very hard," he said. "They're catching the ball better than we have been. The consistency has improved and our assignments have improved. I think our routes have improved."
Much of that improvement is subtle, but important — stuff that the casual fan probably wouldn't notice.
"We as coaches look real close," Cahoon said. "We have good cameras and we rewind them 17 times and we nitpick everything. Not a lot gets by us."
There are several younger players who have stood out during fall camp, like freshman Dylan Collie, who carries himself with a bit of a swagger.
"You like to see that. He doesn't have wide eyes and he expects to be in the first group," Cahoon said of Collie. "He wants the ball. You'd rather have that than someone who's intimidated and playing scared. He's had a lot of opportunities and I think he's made the most of those opportunities."
Others who could see playing time this season include Mitch Mathews, Skyler Ridley, Cody Raymond, Terenn Houk, Dallin Cutler, and Kurt Henderson.
"(Mathews) has a chance (to play). He's got to stay healthy. He's kind of banged up right now, but he's a guy with all the physical tools. He's exciting to watch out there. Skyler Ridley has been one of our most consistent guys in camp. Nobody runs routes like him. He can break on a dime. Kurt Henderson's had a pretty good camp, too. They've been consistent and I'm pleased with them."
While Cahoon likes the depth he has to work with, he's hoping not to have to rely on that depth too much.
"If we're seeing the younger guys, that means the older guys are hurt or stinking it up," he said. "There have been several guys that have come in and made the most of opportunities. It's been a battle. Guys have come in and done a really good job. We'll rotate to keep guys fresh, but we want to have our best guys on the field as much as possible."
COUGARS CAMP REPORT
Day 12: The Cougars held a morning practice in helmets and shoulder pads.
Standouts: Quarterback Riley Nelson completed 3-of-4 passes for 70 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown strike to Alex Kuresa. Backup QB Taysom Hill was 3-of-4 for 68 yards, including a 35-yard TD pass to Brett Thompson.
Injuries: Running back Jamaal Williams (ankle) and Mitch Mathews (shoulder) were held out of team drills, but are expected to return soon.
Overheard: "I thought last year was pretty special, so I think you use that as the baseline. I'm sure he wants more, and it would help our team if there's more." — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall on wide receiver Cody Hoffman, when asked if he's on the verge of a special season.