Kalani Sitake lost a second quarterback to injury and endured his team’s fourth loss in five games Friday night in Logan.
Despite difficult circumstances, the BYU football coach didn’t lose his character in the aftermath of the Cougars’ 40-24 loss to rival Utah State at Maverik Stadium.
While Aggies players and fans celebrated a fun comeback victory — or demoralizing, depending on the letters on your blue gear — Sitake took several minutes to interact with old friends from Utah State on the field before heading to the locker room.
USU offensive lineman Quin Ficklin relished the chance he had to catch up with his former coach. The center retweeted a video of himself and Sitake embracing and enjoying a quick exchange.
Ficklin called it a “special moment.”
Former BYU defensive back Ben Criddle, now a sports talk-show host for ESPN960, relayed a brief story about an interaction he had with Sitake when he was a Ute coach.
“He found me after the 2007 game vs. Utah and told me how proud he was of me,” Criddle wrote. “Meant more than he knew at the time. #BYU”
BYU lineman Ului Lapuaho teased his former teammate in response to the hug between Ficklin and Sitake.
“You know what’s funny,” Lapuaho wrote. “You were the first person to grab the wheel when it left Logan hahaha.”
Ficklin’s response: “Funny how times change.”
During a weekend that included a lot of rivalry trash-talking — between BYU, USU and even Utah fans — Sitake actually managed to receive high praise from supporters of all three of the state’s FBS programs.
“Sitake is a class act,” wrote USU alum @TrueAggieFan. “The program is in good hands.”
Another Utah State fan, @UtahStizzle, added, “Sitake has proven to be a great dude.”
From USU loyalist @bentleyjmitch: “This Aggie is definitely not a BYU fan but I do like Coach Sitake.”
Utah fan @UtesBcrazy called Sitake a “class act!”
Not everybody was so positive.
“I guess he could win the Mr. Congeniality award,” @n8erthegr8er wrote. “Being a nice guy has made him well (liked). Only winning will make him well respected too.”
“That is great and I love Kalani,” @BYUBo echoed. “But time to stop winning Mr. congeniality and win some games.”
Multiple Utes took some shots at their former defensive coordinator.
“Classy guy,” @utejustinporter wrote. “Has proven he’s not a great head coach.”
“I guess when you suck at everything else, like football, you have to find something to be good at,” @Pac12_UtahUtes wrote. “#hugs4everyone.”
Regardless, Ficklin appreciated his chance to hug the man he highly respects.
The ex-BYU player transferred from BYU to USU in January, as was explained in a preview story leading up to this in-state battle. Ficklin redshirted with the Cougars in 2012 and then returned after serving an LDS Church mission. He didn't get on the field in 2015, saw limited playing time last season and decided to head north.
Ficklin quickly developed into a leader in the trenches for USU with an impressive spring showing that resulted in a scholarship. He's allowed to play without sitting out a year because he was a walk-on at BYU.
He was understandably stoked to face his former team.
"It won’t be surreal," Ficklin said. "I’ve played against these guys hundreds of times before. I played against them in practice a lot, so I know all of the defensive linemen, the linebackers and the defensive backs; I know them really well. It’s not so much surreal. It’s going to be exciting."
Ficklin said he knows at least 50 guys on the current BYU roster and goes back to childhood with senior linebacker Matt Hadley, whose older brother took his sister to prom.
Ficklin said he's still in a group text with BYU offensive linemen, and they exchange details about how their games went.
"They have a lot of good guys, and I have no hard feelings toward BYU football at all," Ficklin said before the game. "They were great to me, and I had a great three years there. But I’m having an even better year here at Utah State, though."
It's even better now.