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Courtesy BYU Photo
BYU running back Squally Canada runs with the ball during the game against Fresno State in Fresno, California, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
Squally is 100 percent. He’s seeing the field much better and he’s patient with the run. —BYU head coach Kalani Sitake

PROVO — For BYU running back Squally Canada, last Friday’s 213-yard rushing performance in a 31-21 victory over UNLV set a career high and marked one of the best single-game efforts in school history.

It was also a redemption of sorts on the same field, at Sam Boyd Stadium, that Canada experienced a forgettable debut.

Canada’s first carry for the Cougars came in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl against arch-rival Utah. Because of the timing of his transfer from Washington State the previous year, Canada became eligible to play against the Utes.

When he took the field, BYU already trailed 28-0 in the first quarter. Canada took a handoff, gained one yard, bumped into an offensive lineman and fumbled — the Cougars’ fifth consecutive turnover. Utah capitalized again on the BYU mistake and jumped to a 35-0 lead.

That was Canada’s only rushing attempt in BYU’s eventual 35-28 loss.

The miscue haunted him for a while — but that moment seemed far away after what he accomplished Friday.

When he was told his stat line in the moments following the win over the Rebels, he said, “That’s not bad. I’ll take that. Amen. Praise God.”

When told the 213 yards was No. 9 overall in the annals of BYU football, he replied, “Is that what that is? Hey, God is good. I said my prayers this week, I picked up my Bible and read the book of Genesis. I talked to my dad. Hey, he blessed me.”

It’s been an arduous year for Canada, who revealed during media day in June that his cousin was killed and a friend shot over a two-week period earlier this year. Distraught, he considered quitting the team.

But his family helped convince him to continue playing.

Canada started the season rushing for 98 yards against Portland State. Then he went through a long stretch with little or no impact on the field, either due to injury or to lack of playing time.

On Nov. 4, when the Cougars played at Fresno State, located a few hours south of Canada’s hometown of Milpitas, California, he ran 12 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. He looked like a different running back as he waited for his blockers and showed the ability to cut back and break tackles.

“It was good to be back in California and breath that Cali air and see my family, my mom and dad, my little cousins and some of my hometown friends,” he said afterward.

Then, in Las Vegas, Canada rushed 25 times for 213 yards (an average of 8.5 yards per carry), including 183 in the second half.

“Shout out to my family,” he said. “I finally got to sit down with my mom and my dad and my two sisters for the first time since my cousin’s funeral … It felt good to be with them. It felt good to put on a show for them.”

Canada has rushed for a team-high 546 yards and four touchdowns this season.

With Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall and Trey Dye sidelined, and with a freshman quarterback, Joe Critchlow, making his first start, the Cougars needed a big game from Canada.

“Squally is 100 percent. He’s seeing the field much better and he’s patient with the run. We’ve had a lot of shakeup at the running back position, mostly because of health issues,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “It was nice to have some consistency and feed him the ball so I thought it was a good move forward for us. Wish we could have done this earlier but I’m just happy it came along … He’s a hard worker. We knew going into this season that we had something special with him. He’s had some really bad luck when it comes to his injuries and health.”

When asked about how he was able to run for so many yards Friday, Canada replied, “I ran the same as last week (at Fresno State). I just happened to get double to carries.”

Being healthy, of course, has been a benefit, too.

“It’s a big factor. When you’re healthy, you can do the things you need to do to succeed,” he said. “When you’re not healthy you don’t do those things to finish runs. Being healthy gave me that an extra boost.”

Canada said he’s a different running back than he was last year, when he was a teammate of the school’s all-time leading rusher, and current Green Bay Packer, Jamaal Williams.

“I’m finally getting to mesh with my O-line,” Canada said. “I’ve finally figured out what Jamaal was talking about, just going out there and being yourself. I’m being myself and my O-linemen are getting a great push up front. And that’s the result.”

Early in the third quarter against UNLV, Canada broke off a career-high 54-yard run and it appeared he was going to score before he was hauled down at the UNLV 14-yard line.

Canada said his dad taught him the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. The story applies to football, he explained.

“He told me when you’re running, never look back. Always look forward. I was running and I looked back,” Canada said. “I’m pretty sure if I would have kept running and just focused on what was in front of me, I would have scored. That’s a life lesson to the kids — never look back, always look forward.”

Still, Canada ended up scoring a touchdown a few plays later.

In terms of his BYU football career, Canada has looked forward, not back, since his infamous fumble in Las Vegas.

Now he can remember Sam Boyd Stadium as a place where he turned in one of the best single-game rushing performances in school history.

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