BYU football’s quarterback position is, perhaps, the most high-profile gig on campus and also the most important to the Cougars’ success. But with its high profile comes high scrutiny.
In the three seasons following three-year starter Max Hall’s graduation, BYU has seen a carousel of quarterbacks with a variety of results, some better than others. Though the Cougars cycled through four different starters over the past three seasons — Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson, Taysom Hill and James Lark — no quarterback has played a full season as the go-to man.
The Cougars intend to change that this year with sophomore Taysom Hill as the undisputed starter going into this season. Hill played in six games last year, starting in two, before sustaining a knee injury against Utah State. His game experience was believed by many to give him the edge going into spring camp.
“It’s created some unique challenges, some unique opportunities. It’s different going into a season named the starter,” Hill said. “It’s been fun; I’ve had an opportunity to take more of a leadership role as the offensive quarterback, and that’s been fun.”
Hill’s leadership abilities have been praised as he has learned to take a bigger role with the team going into this season as the starter.
“It’s great because Taysom is a natural-born leader,” running back Jamaal Williams said. “He comes in and just starts leading, and we trust him. As a quarterback and as a leader, I’ll follow him no matter where he is, and I’ll protect him from getting hurt again no matter what.”
Hill’s role with the team has been very important in the time between spring and fall camps, a time when coaches are allowed no interaction with players.
“I think it’s forced us as players to take more ownership, which has been good,” Hill said. “We take initiative. We’re having to call the plays, to make audibles and checks and everything. As a whole it’s caused us to learn the offense really well so we can make calls and make plays.”
BYU has placed a large amount of pressure on the quarterback’s health this season, as injuries plagued the Cougars last season, forcing them to go to their third-string quarterback, James Lark.
“It’s been emphasized daily,” Hill said. “I had a conversation with coach Anae; I don’t know if he was joking, I hope he was joking. He said, ‘if you don’t slide in a game I’m going to pull you out.’ I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned through my injury. I need to play smarter in the shots that I take. Coach Beck, Coach Mendenhall and Coach Anae have all made that very clear that the expectation is that I need to protect myself.”
In the event Hill does get hurt, the Cougars will look to sophomore Ammon Olsen.
“Ammon’s a very talented player. Very smart, works really hard, pushes himself to be the best that he can; he has a strong arm and can make all the throws,” quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said. “He’s very capable, very talented. He wants to play. He feels like he should be the starting quarterback here. Which is what you want, so he’s just working hard, vying to get every rep that he can get and for his opportunity to play. If and when that comes, we’re confident in Ammon and his abilities.”
Olsen and Hill were neck and neck during most of spring camp. While Hill didn’t play in the spring scrimmage, Olsen played extremely well as he was 6-11 and passed for 96 yards in two series. He showed great accuracy and arm strength and surprising athleticism. Olsen’s success, however, was marred by a partially torn PCL he sustained on his last drive of the scrimmage, from which he has since recovered.
Jason Munns and junior college transfer Christian Stewart are still battling for the number-three spot behind Hill and Olsen. Though some say the competition between quarterbacks may create some controversy, in the end it can only be better for the Cougars.
“It’s really good. I think anywhere you go it’s important to have competition at every position so you continue to work and improve on yourself,” Hill said. “I also think for myself and the other guys, that’s our nature to compete, and we’re out there competing against ourselves. We want to be the best that we can be, and those other guys pushing us help us accomplish that.”