PROVO — Taysom Hill became the low-hanging fruit after BYU’s first practice of fall camp Saturday.
BYU quarterbacks of the past know how this goes.
When it comes time for interviews, BYU's QB is the most requested, most interviewed focal point of the herd of reporters, many of whom make it a point to come the first day over any other.
Once Hill entered the interview room Saturday, the crowd gathered. Reporters jockeyed for position and mic space.
It looked like the day of the great buffalo skin hunt.
Hill capped his first practice Saturday with a go-quick march down the field that included big passes to Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev. “That was one hard practice,” he said afterward.
It is also tougher to gain access to BYU football sessions. Beginning this season, availability to see practices by the media has been cut by about 20 to 30 percent from spring, about 70 percent lower than 10 years ago.
This is a trend nationally, not just at BYU. More programs are limiting coverage of practice, 11-on-11s, depth chart issues, injuries and other things. With the Cougars, it comes at a time when demands by the press have never been higher.
Just eight to 10 years ago this media dance drew about four or five reporters. Now there are approximately 30 and on days like the first day, the number can approach 50. "If we let in everyone who writes a blog, it would be 10 times that," said BYU football sports information director Brett Pyne.
Saturday was the first and only on-field access to a BYU practice for the forseeable future. That’s never happened before. There will be other observation opportunities by the press, but it won’t be on the field. It will be on a balcony near the football offices and only for the closing minutes.
There are at least three radio sports talk stations in the market, four if you count BYU flagship KSL, which now does a Saturday afternoon multi-hour show. All have two to four reporters or on-air producers or hosts that may come for interviews. The University of Texas has just one radio sports station in Austin that requests access, according to one BYU athletic department official who measures such things.
Almost one-fourth of credentialed media at Cougar practices work for BYU in the form of reporters for the student newspaper, BYUtv, KBYU-TV or the athletic department website. BYUtv has four reporters assigned to cover the football program and that doesn’t count camera operators and other help that is between six and eight people.
It takes two to three university staff members to handle interview requests and line up interviewees. In each of the past five years availability has been more restricted.
It’s such an army of reporters, Pyne has to put out an annual 600-word memo stating guidelines and policies. Governing reporters venturing to cover BYU is not a service to be provided by Pyne, but a task to be managed and monitored.
“We had a former coach here tell us we had more reporters at our practices than the NFL team he once worked for,” said Pyne.
Saturday, there was a photographer using his motor drive still camera shooting a team-autographed banner stuck in the ground on a pole. He motored about 25 frames as it flapped in the wind.
Saturday, Hill’s media crunch began anew, recharged since the end of spring drills.
Hill will face this at every practice reporters are admitted to cover. It is roughly 40 percent more media faces than Max Hall or John Beck saw just a short time ago.
Since Max Hall walked off the field in his final Las Vegas Bowl, a 44-20 win over Oregon State on Dec. 22, 2009, Bronco Mendenhall has witnessed four quarterbacks start games for his offense.
That’s too many.
It points to injuries, instability and change — the opposite of health, stability and consistency.
And that’s what so important to Mendenhall this fall. He’s changed his entire offensive staff. He’s brought in seven new offensive linemen. And he’s got Hill primed and ready to be scrutinized at a level more intense than Ty Detmer ever had due to the Internet, blogs, message boards, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
This was part of Saturday’s hill for Hill.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae praised his quarterback after Saturday’s first practice.
“Taysom has done his work. His body is a machine. That body looks like an NFL safety. His conditioning test was no problem. He’s fast; he’s mobile; and he has a nice touch on the ball.”
Hill said he is excited to put BYU’s offense to the test this fall and praised veterans and newcomers alike for making an effort to go fast and hard.
“For the first day, we made a lot of plays. We have areas we have to work on but I’m looking forward to Monday and the opportunity to improve,” said the sophomore.
Saturday, that was the key word: improve.
And in BYU's camp, everyone was humble enough to say it as often as they were asked.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].