It doesn’t matter what I did the year before or two years before — you earn your spot every year and that’s how it has to be. —BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna
PROVO — After nearly four years in the program, BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna still feels jitters at the start of every practice session. Placed alongside a host of newcomers trying to earn spots on the team, the seasoned senior felt as nervous as anyone during the Cougars' first fall practice session Saturday.
“I had trouble sleeping last night and I really think I get more and more nervous every year I do this,” Manumaleuna said. “Every year I feel that pressure. I don’t think anything is earned and you start over. It doesn’t matter what I did the year before or two years before — you earn your spot every year and that’s how it has to be.”
Manumaleuna leads a BYU defensive front long on bodies and overall talent, but extremely short on experience. Newcomers include junior college transfer Kalolo Utu along with true freshmen Merrill Taliauli and JonRyheem Peoples.
Manumaleuna took all of his reps at defensive end Saturday with both Marques Johnson and Tuni Kanuch rotating in at nose tackle with the first-team defense.
Coaches have made it clear that solidifying the nose tackle position is priority No. 1 for the defense during fall camp. They were encouraged with what they saw on the first day.
“Marques has had a transformation,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He was one of the players at the end of the spring when he was told where he stood and what he had to do and from what I saw today, he’s worked really hard.”
“I thought both Tuni and and Marques had average springs, but both of them obviously had great summers,” Manumaleuna added. “I’m real excited and pleased with what I saw from them during the summer and you could tell they both put in the work they had to, just seeing them out there. It was exciting to me.”
CORNER A CONCERN: Cornerback is rarely a deep position at BYU. It doesn't appear the Cougars will be deep at that position this season.
Mendenhall said that senior Mike Hague, who was expected to take the lead at boundary corner, probably won’t be ready for the team’s first game against Virginia. Hague is nursing a calf injury.
Junior college transfer Sam Lee did not participate in practices and is experiencing a back injury that may keep him out of fall camp entirely.
Jordan Johnson assumed his spot at field corner with true freshman Dallin Leavitt seeing most of the action with the first team at the other corner position. JC transfer Robertson Daniel saw time with the second team.
“Both of those guys have the desire, but they have a ways to go. But they know it,” said Johnson. “We need guys to step up and I think they’re doing what they need to do. They’re asking me questions and I’m happy to answer because we’re going to need them.”
- Three standout long receptions were made by true freshman Michael Davis and Skyler Ridley during team drills, but it was Mitch Mathews who had the catch of the day. The 6-foot-6 sophomore snared down a badly underthrown pass with one hand on a quick slant without breaking stride.
- Kicking is a major concern this season, and the team did plenty of work on field goals Saturday. Justin Sorensen saw most of the work along with JC transfer Trevor Samson and Vance “Moose” Bingham.
- Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley were held out of team drills.
- Ryker Mathews participated in light drills, but sat out the practice-ending team drill. Michael Yeck saw reps in Mathews' place and was accompanied by Solomone Kafu, Terrance Alletto, Nick Johnson and Brad Wilcox, going from left guard to right tackle along the offensive front.
- True freshman Brayden Kearsley saw most of his reps at left guard with the second team. JC transfer De'Ondre Wesley logged time at right tackle with Tim Duran seeing reps at center.