Jaren Wilkey/BYU
BYU's Zach Katoa carries the ball during spring camp on March 15, 2018. Incoming freshmen like Katoa could benefit from a new rule change (players can now play four games and still redshirt) that was announced by the NCAA this spring.

PROVO — Last month, the NCAA announced a major rule change — football players can participate in up to four games in a season without burning a redshirt year.

For BYU, this redshirt rule change could be a big boon because of the dozens of returned missionaries in the program. Most players return home from missions and need time to return to form both physically and mentally.

This rule change allows them to gain some valuable experience while maintaining a season of eligibility.

“It’s better for us. It’s more of a benefit for us than other programs, specifically because of the returned missionaries,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “Most of our missionaries are going in the summer after they graduate from high school. They get home in the summer, which doesn’t give you much time to get ready for the season. But if you add in playing in the last four games, that’s a huge benefit. We could have used them last year.

"Two guys that come to mind are (running back) Zach Katoa and (defensive back) Keenan Ellis," Sitake continued. "We could have used other guys that didn’t want to burn their redshirt year. We needed them on the field because of injuries and they could still be freshmen. There are players that don’t want to play at midseason. Now they can play four years and a third of football. The more they can be on the field the better for us, especially when you’re down in depth and trying to develop guys coming off missions.”

A year ago, quarterback Joe Critchlow, who returned home from a mission in June 2017, played in six games for BYU — and started three contests due to injuries to Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge — as a true freshman.

Cougar passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said the rule change could influence the way he uses the QBs, particularly true freshmen like Zach Wilson.

“It’s a great rule. I’m really excited about it. Every coach I’ve talked to is excited about it. You used to have to decide if you were redshirting a QB or not. Once you get past the fourth or fifth game, you didn’t want to burn a guy’s year,” Roderick said. “Those decisions, you have four games to work with. That’s a lot. It’s also going to keep all players more engaged in the full season. I’m not just stuck redshirting, shut off my brain and wake me up in January after the bowl game. Now, it’s, ‘I’ve got to stay engaged, stay ready, keep improving because I might be needed. And I can still redshirt.’ That’s a pretty cool thing for everyone.”

While newcomers like wide receiver Gunner Romney, defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi, placekicker Skyler Southam and punter Danny Jones are expected to make an immediate impact and get significant playing time this fall, several other newcomers, like quarterback Jaren Hall, tight end Dallin Holker, wide receiver Brayden Cosper and offensive lineman Harris LaChance, could benefit from this rule change.

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Mangum has never used a redshirt season, though he played sparingly in 2016 as a backup to Tayson Hill, playing in five games and starting one. He likes the change for redshirts as well.

“I think it’s a great rule. Having that opportunity to play in some games but not lose that year is great. It helps with guys’ development,” he said. “It gives them a chance to play at a high level at game speed. It’s helping their improvement as a player and it gives guys more benefits as a redshirt. It’s a chance to grow and develop in a more efficient way. I like it. It’s a good change and I’m interested to see how teams use that going forward.”