PROVO — They call him A-Rod, an affectionate nickname given through the years to Aaron Roderick, the man Kalani Sitake and Jeff Grimes chose to retool BYU’s passing game.
The name Roderick comes from the old High German Hrodrich (famous ruler), comprised of the word hruod (fame) and rik (king and ruler).
In A-Rod’s new job as BYU’s pass game coordinator, his initial edict will be a huge challenge. He needs to get to the end of fall practice and the opener at Arizona by picking three or four quarterbacks from among nine, and getting those guys productive reps all the while introducing a new design with a new offensive coordinator.
It will take the wisdom of a king.
“My last year at Utah, we had two quarterbacks on scholarship in the room and now, here, we have eight with a ninth soon to return,” said Roderick.
“We are going to have to get that number down just to manage things. People don’t realize you only have 15 practices in the spring and then you have 29 in the fall before your first game, so, that’s not a lot of time. Then in each practice, you have X number of reps and you have to divide that up between three or four guys.
“There is no perfect way, and I’m not perfect, but I will do my best to find the best way to develop them and make those choices.”
Roderick’s approach has been a simple one, but a path that's been one of his strengths over the years. He is trying his best to get to know BYU’s quarterbacks, develop a relationship with them and gain their trust.
“At first I just wanted them to know I was going to work really hard and earn their trust. I’ve told them it is my job to try and get the best out of each one of them. In the case of Tanner (Mangum), everybody has seen Tanner play really well in big games against great teams, so I think it is my job to try to get him to play like that again and if he doesn’t, it is my responsibility.
“I’ll be accountable for how they play. How the quarterback plays is on me and I’ll always take responsibility for that. I won't blame them and I’ll make sure they know that. I will never blame the QB.
“Mostly I’ve just tried to make a personal connection with them as people, let them try and get to know me. I think you get more out of your players when they know you care about them.”
Those who have coached with Roderick and played for him say this is one of his strengths.
“I don’t know if it is a strength but it is something I work at," he said. "This goes back to LaVell, players play their best for you when they feel you have their best interests in mind. You can get after a player if he knows you care about him. But if you get after a player and he doesn’t think you care, then it falls on deaf ears.
"So I think it is important to let them know where your interests lie. Having said that, we’re going to have to trim down a large number of quarterbacks to a manageable number. It’s going to be hard, but there just aren’t enough reps to go around so we are going to have to make some tough decisions.”
The candidate list is a long one. Mangum won’t be in spring practice due to rehab on his Achilles tendon. There is Beau Hoge, Joe Critchlow, Kody Wilstead and Austin Kafentzis, who were part of the 2017 roster. Freshman Zach Wilson and Stacy Conner just signed and enrolled. Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney are expected to join the team this spring and summer.
It is imperative BYU’s coaches have one or more of these athletes step up and take charge in player-driven offseason practices and pass sessions.
“It’s actually been happening already. One thing that happens at BYU is those players are self-starters and get it done. We have players here who are going to go put in the work without us being around. They do it on their own and I have a lot of confidence in that part of it,” said Roderick.
Wilson and Conner, products of Corner Canyon High and Texas, are unique candidates because they are the most recent signees who were chased down by the new offensive staff.
Roderick gives his thoughts on the duo.
“Both are dual threats, good athletes who can throw. Both are really smart guys and great competitors. I had the chance to work with Zach in high school during several camps; I like his mindset. Stacy Conner, I’m getting to know him now that he’s here, and he’s really a square-it-up guy. Both can run it if asked to.”
Wilson and Connor were recruited late in the process this winter. Wilson had committed to Boise State and Connor to UNLV.
“Honestly, the majority of the work was done before I was hired to recruit both of them,” said Roderick. “But in the process of talking to Kalani about joining the staff, my trust in Kalani is really high. We look for the same things in quarterbacks. He knew what he wanted and generally, we are going to agree on what we want in a quarterback.
"In Zach’s case, he knew (receivers coach) Fesi (Sitake) for a while and he knew me, and Jeff Grimes got on him as soon as he could so we made a connection there. It was late, but we got right in on him.
Roderick said his exposure to the rookies has been limited so far in meetings and seeing how they work.40 comments on this story
“I’ve really been impressed with the way they’ve operated so far. They certainly don’t act like freshmen. They are working hard in the weight room, going to school, and it is really a great thing because when fall starts you are already a veteran member of the team. Other teammates have been familiar with you and respect you and it's not like you are a new face in practice. It will be interesting to see how they do in spring.”
With all the QB choices, Roderick will have to use a lot of diplomacy. Whittling it down to a productive three or four will be one of his biggest challenges.