PROVO — In an effort to make BYU’s defense faster and more athletic, Cougar coaches have had several defensive players switch to new positions, including Dayan Ghanwoloku’s move from cornerback to strong safety.
It didn’t take Ghanwoloku long to embrace his new spot during spring practices.
“The first couple of reps at safety, I got a couple of picks,” Ghanwoloku said, smiling. “I got those two picks and it was good. It’s great. I love it. I’m put in the position to make more plays instead of being isolated on one side like I was at corner ... I'm free.”
Safety seems to fit Ghanwoloku’s skill set nicely, as he has recorded five career interceptions.
But his new role will also require him being one of the leaders of the defense.
“Obviously, you’ve got to learn it. You’re the quarterback of the defense. I feel like just learning the plays and once I learned it I can make checks faster and play a lot faster. It’s been good," Ghanwoloku said. "At corner, I got my guy. But at safety, you make all these checks and play fast, too. That’s probably the hardest transition, just getting the plays in faster and getting the calls in.”
In addition to Ghanwoloku’s move to safety, Zayne Anderson has gone from safety to linebacker; Sione Takitaki has changed from defensive line to linebacker; and Troy Warner could see time at safety though he is still listed as a possible starting cornerback going into fall camp. Warner is also listed as a potential starter at both the free safety and strong safety.
“The coaches are putting the best players out there and they’re going to make plays. We picked up our new positions pretty good,” said Ghanwoloku, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior from Layton. “In fall camp, we’re going to put everything together. Everyone’s in the right spot at the right time. You can see it out there. We’re trying to get bigger, faster and stronger.”
The post-spring depth chart features Austin Lee as a potential starter at free safety.
Warner suffered a season-ending foot injury last October and was held out of spring ball as he recovered.
“He’s full speed now,” Ghanwoloku said of Warner. “He’s got his plays down. He’s going to be good out there.”
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki is happy with the emergence of cornerbacks like Chris Wilcox, Keenan Ellis and Trevion Greene. Tuiaki is hopeful that position changes will result in more consistent play.
“We’ve got to be better at our base stuff. Part of that is the development of our young corners. We’re excited about the young talent we have at the corner spot,” Tuiaki said. “We potentially moved Troy and Dayan to safety to give us a little more athleticism there. You can have as much speed as you want on the field but if your D-line can’t rush, then you can’t cover for six seconds. We feel like this spring was good for the development of a young defensive line.”
To learn the safety position, Ghanwoloku has watched a lot of film of Seattle Seahawks star Earl Thomas — a player he's looking to emulate.9 comments on this story
“I try to mold my game around him. He knows what he’s doing. He’s always in the right spot at the right time,” Ghanwoloku said. “He’s a finesse guy at safety. He comes up to hit and he can cover guys and he’s always going full speed. That’s what I’ll try to do this season at safety.”
BYU has a new safeties coach, Preston Hadley, a former Cougar who returned to Provo after a stint as an assistant at Weber State.
“I love him. He’s the one that’s been helping out the most at safety with my technique,” Ghanwoloku said. “He’s been a blessing to us at BYU with the way his mindset is, competing. He motivates us. We go out there and play for him.”