Kalani Sitake’s staff would like to ride the chemistry created in November and December of last season as BYU spring football kicks off this week.
It was a time the Cougars battled hard but limped across the finish line in late November. You could fill a bus with the walking wounded.
It’s a team that had to overcome a lot of adversity to end the season in Boise during a blowout bowl game victory.
When folks step up, it unifies a team.
Ask the New England Patriots who were criticized for being too old and slow and led by a practical senior citizen in Tom Brady.
Consider: BYU had more than 24 players miss playing time during the season, many of them starters. They lost corners Isaiah Herron, Trevion Greene, and starter Chris Wilcox, defensive starting linebackers Zayne Anderson, Butch Pau’u, and star defensive end Corbin Kaufusi and his cousin Isaiah Kaufusi. The offense was impacted by injuries to tight ends Moroni Laulu-Pututau, JJ Nwigwe, Hank Tuipulotu, Matt Bushman; receivers Gunner Romney and Aleva Hifo, and running backs Squally Canada, Lopini Katoa and Matt Hadley.
To begin with, it wasn’t a team with a lot of experienced depth.
“You have to give credit to the guys,” said defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “A lot of players stepped up and played in a lot of different positions, and then we had a lot of freshmen we called on and they came in and really performed well.”
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb agrees. Plus, he claims, the players believed in themselves and made a declaration that they were going to play and work hard. All of that proved itself at the end.
“The players have bought in. It showed in the amount of time they put in outside of what we normally do. That’s really a tribute to the type of kids we have.”
Tuiaki said the fact that BYU won some big games and lost some others didn’t snuff out the determination to play hard for the fans.
It will be very hard to replace the intense play and leadership of Sione Takitaki and Corbin Kaufusi, but the same thing happened last year at this time when they lost NFL-bound Fred Warner. There are faces eager to prove themselves in spring and fall, Tuiaki explained.
“We were in a little bit of a panic on who would replace Fred,” said Lamb, “but Zayne stepped up and really came on until he was hurt. It’s a matter of players creating their own stories, stepping up, and that makes it cool to coach these guys.”
Some of those players included freshman corner Malik Moore, linebackers Riggs Powell, Rhett Sandlin and Adam Pulsipher. On offense, certainly, Hadley fits that category, as does redshirt freshman offensive lineman Keanu Saleapaga and rookie QB Zach Wilson.
Step up clubs on teams do wonders for chemistry and pushing the agenda and culture. Wilson was perhaps the biggest example of that kind of contribution when called upon.12 comments on this story
As spring drills unfold, storylines to watch include rebuilding the running backs corps and who will challenge Katoa, what tight ends will do with Bushman and Pututau sidelined with injuries, and who exactly will get looked at as linebacker and defensive end with Takitaki and Corbin Kaufusi gone.
Of course, as always, one of the biggest focal points will be at quarterback, where a bevy of challengers will be fighting for the right to back up Wilson, who will not throw the football until late spring or summer following shoulder surgery.
What storyline will prove worthy to follow, what mysteries will be resolved and just how will Jeff Grimes evolve as a second-year offensive coordinator?
These are fodder for spring.