You have to communicate more, but we have the freedom to make more plays and that’s what I like. —Dayan Ghanwoloku
PROVO — A year ago, BYU cornerback Dayan Lake announced that he was changing his last name to Ghanwoloku to honor a beloved uncle who’d passed away.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior is undergoing another change this spring. Ghanwoloku is moving from cornerback to safety as part of a defensive overhaul, which will also include junior Troy Warner moving to safety, Zayne Anderson filling in for Fred Warner at the flash linebacker spot, Austin Lee getting a run at free safety and senior Sione Takitaki shifting to the defensive line among other wrinkles.
“The goal,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said, “is to get the best 11 on the field.”
Ghanwoloku, a former Northridge High star, is excited about the switch after playing corner for the Cougars the past two seasons. He’ll take over at strong safety for the departed Micah Hannemann.
“It’s new to me, but I feel like it’s better for me,” Ghanwoloku said. “You have to communicate more, but we have the freedom to make more plays and that’s what I like. You see the whole field instead of just one side of the field. I feel like it’s a better opportunity to make plays.”
That’s how the coaching staff sees it, too. New safeties coach Preston Hadley, who played corner for BYU from 2011-12, believes this will help maximize Ghanwoloku’s talent and leadership.
“The thing that stands out about him is he just competes, man, He’s got a good feel,” Hadley said, crediting the leader-in-training for having a natural feel for “proper distribution” of his weight in making stops.
“He’s a versatile player. If he needed to play corner, he can play corner. He has the ability to be a great safety. I think he’ll be a really good player with his experience as a corner, and just naturally he’s a physical guy so I think he’ll end up being a great player for us and really help anchor our defense.”
Hadley credited Lee and junior defensive back Isaiah Armstrong for getting off to strong starts this spring in the secondary along with Ghanwoloku. Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox will be integrated into the mix at some point. Trevion Greene, Mike Shelton and Keenan Ellis are other guys with impact potential.
“Guys are buying in,” Hadley said. “Some of the older guys are stepping up and trying to lead and really establishing a culture of competitiveness in the group.”
The Cougars will likely play more zone this year than in the past. Ghanwoloku likes the competitiveness he’s seen from teammates during scheme change.
“We’re trying to get the calls out a lot faster, reading offenses, (playing) high tempo and upbeat,” he said. “We’re trying to get out there and make plays. Turnovers, that’s the key. Our strength — we’ve got playmakers everywhere, I feel like.”
The secondary is optimistic the defensive line will get more pressure on the quarterback, taking a bit of pressure off of them and allowing them to make big plays.
“I feel like the whole defense is molding good,” Ghanwoloku said when asked about the scheme changes. “You’ll see.”
Whatever scheme they implement, Hadley said it boils down to basics. That will be the emphasis heading into the 2018 season.
“For us the most important thing is tackling. In my opinion, it’s the hardest thing you’ll do in football, but it’s also the most important thing you’ll do in football,” Hadley said. “ And then just finding a way to generate turnovers and just be sound on defense, but it all starts with just tackling and finding ways to get guys to the ground.”
That is what excites BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki about moving Ghanwoloku to safety, which he believes is the affable and athletic player’s true position.
“He’s a great tackler,” Tuiaki said. “We felt like moving him there — as well as Troy — would give them the best chance in their future as well as just give us some really good tacklers and guys who can still play man-to-man that have corner experience.”
Ghanwoloku was open to the change when it was brought it up to him by the coaches. They asked, “You want to try this? I’m like, sure.”
Hadley admits there are still things he needs to iron out while mastering the safety position, but watch out when he does.
“I saw Kai Nacua making plays at safety. All the safeties are making plays,” Ghanwoloku said. “It’s a better chance to make plays, so I’ll try it this spring.”