PROVO — Things are coming along for Dayan Ghanwoloku three days into the fall practice session. The Northridge High product is feeling more comfortable playing at strong safety, a position that suits his athletic skills and his temperment best, according all concerned.
Back in 2016, the defensive system run at BYU switch somewhat dramatically, with the new coaching staff implementing a new, more aggressive type of system, which catered better to Ghanwoloku. The 5-foot-11, 200 pound junior was a freshman at the time, feeling a bit lost in the system, until a man-press system gave him new life at his then-cornerback position.
He saw good success playing at corner in both 2016 and 2017, making his switch to safety somewhat curious, although new safeties coach Preston Hadley provides good insight regarding the nature of the strong safety position.
“It’s really just a third corner out there,” Hadley said. “So, from his experience playing corner, it’s really no big deal. It’s an easy transition, but it’s a transition that fits his skill set better.”
The transition also caters to Ghanwoloku's physical nature. At strong safety, he plays closer to the center of the action and allows him more opportunities to mix it up and play to the aspects he loves most about the game of football.
“I get to come out in the box a lot, and I’m hitting a lot more, and that’s what I love about football,” Ghanwoloku said. “That’s why I love football. I love being physical, so playing at strong safety really is perfect for me.”
Playing at strong safety does present challenges, however. One of the biggest hurdles is becoming more vocal and making calls, which requires a lot of recognition skills, not only for those playing in the defensive backfield, but also for the linebackers in front of him.
Ghanwoloku has made plenty of wrong calls since practicing at strong safety, but it's all part of the process. The good news is those calls are coming quicker and more precise with every practice session, according to Hadley.
“He's improving every day. He has to be more vocal, and that’s been a challenge to him, but he's getting it,” Hadley said. “Pretty much all the talking you do as a corner is talking trash to the guy you’re covering. But now he has to be more aware of what everyone is doing. So he’s making progress there, but there’s obviously room for improvements.”
As far as learning how to make the correct calls and recognize what's going on, Ghanwoloku is quick to credit both Hadley and one of the more experienced safeties on the team.
“Gavin Fowler has been great helping me learn everything,” Ghanwoloku said. “He’s the veteran of our group and he’s really taken the role of helping point out things and helping us recognize everything out there.”
Fowler represents a group of veterans used to playing the position, along with Austin Lee and Tanner Jacobson, mixed with some impressive relative newcomers, such as Ghanwoloku, Troy Warner and Isaiah Armstrong. Overall Hadley likes the mix he has and ultimately wants to rest on a tight rotation as the season draws closer with every day.4 comments on this story
“The guys are well-aware it’s an open competition, and that’s helping everyone,” Hadley said. “There’s a good mix of experienced guys and guys we’re trying out. Preferably we want four or five guys to rotate and we’ll wait to see who emerges.”
As far as Ghanwoloku is concerned, the safeties will be one of the better parts of BYU's defense this year, expressing confidence with all those around him.
"We're a tight group, and there's a lot of guys who can play," he said. "So we're just excited to get it going and continue getting better throughout the fall. I love the switch and feel it's going to be great for me and hopefully for everyone."