You do whatever you can to get better, and it’s all about getting the best 11. —BYU head coach Kalani Sitake
Matt Bushman is a known offensive commodity at BYU. So, the question is, who are the faces that might end up as similar contributors for Kalani Sitake this fall as BYU spring football enters its final two weeks?
Well, shuffling bodies around to find out is something Sitake did the past few days. It’s a mission of discovery.
Receiver Beau Tanner has moved to play corner, quarterback/running back/receiver Austin Kafentzis requested to move to the other side, to safety; corner Dayan Ghanwoloku switched to safety; outside linebacker Chris Folau moved to middle linebacker; safety Zayne Anderson moved from safety to linebacker, and Sione Takitaki went from defensive end to linebacker.
“It’s all about getting the best 11 players on the field,” Sitake told reporters after Monday’s morning practice.
It’s something Sitake did a lot of when he was the defensive coordinator at Utah.
Moving Ghanwoloku to safety gave that spot more speed and opened up the door for Keenan Ellis, Trevion Greene and Chris Wilcox. Folau’s natural position is middle linebacker, and Anderson’s move from safety to linebacker has worked out better than they thought it would.
Sitake said BYU’s defense requires more speed on the field to execute what they’re trying to do. That’s another part of it. Kafentzis gives the secondary more speed and as Sitake put it, since he knows the offense, he can jump back if needed.
“It’s something we’re always going to do. We are evaluating our freshmen and this is the first time they’ve had legitimate reps. I don’t think you can ever be settled on guys at a certain position,” said Sitake. “People change, so does the talent that comes in, and competition gets better. You do whatever you can to get better, and it’s all about getting the best 11.”
On Monday, Ellis, Wilcox and Tanner Jacobson had interceptions. Meanwhile, Joe Critchlow hit Aleva Hifo for a long touchdown pass and Inoke Lotulelei’s one-handed catch in skelly drills raised some eyebrows.
To me, the offensive line appears to be a group that has made the biggest statement in spring, both emotionally and with physical play and attitude.
One of the more impressive performers on a consistent basis outside Bushman has been freshman redshirt Zach Katoa, who appears to be a complementary back to Squally Canada.
The first college recruiter to offer Katoa out of American Fork High School was Sitake when he was coaching at Oregon State under Gary Andersen. What he saw in Katoa was a football player who never came off the field; he played both offense and defense. He was a tireless worker on every down.
Some early evaluators may not have taken that into account about Katoa, that his contribution was so effective. It is that early offer that brought Sitake and Katoa together and has lasted through relationships from the Oregon State commitment and on to his current role at BYU.
A year ago, running back coach Reno Mahe agreed with Sitake to hold out Katoa after his LDS mission service to Independence, Missouri, and give him a chance to get back in shape. Now, coach AJ Steward is taking advantage of that developmental period by making him the primary back.
And Katoa is delivering in spring training.
Sitake said BYU enters the final two weeks with tons of work to do to get better, but he’s pleased with the progress and how players have developed chemistry with new coaches.
“I think we have a chance to be good, but I’m not predicting. We have to get a lot of things done in the final two weeks,” said Sitake.
Putting a phrase to what BYU’s offense is trying to be, Katoa told BYU Sports Nation after drills Monday, “It’s fast-paced and we’re disciplined. Those things alone will set up apart.”
It is still early, but there are elements of this team that stand out to observers in limited windows given. I’d say the top three are the offensive line, Katoa, and energy and organization and pace of practices.