BYU football scrambles for a quarterback

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An undefeated season, potential Heisman status and a possible New Year’s Bowl Game.

These were the expectations of BYU football fans before the game against in-state rival Utah State. Little did they know that this single game would change those expectations and bring doubt and concern for the remainder of the season. All of this due to losing BYU’s starting quarterback, Taysom Hill.

So, who is the new BYU quarterback, and does he have the potential to reassemble the shattered pieces of the expectations of BYU fans for the season?

Christian Stewart was never far away from BYU growing up. He lived in Orem and played for Timpanogos High School. He was named Utah Valley Player of the Year and became the MVP of his team.

Christian Stewart runs the ball towards the end zone in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)
Christian Stewart runs the ball toward the end zone in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)

Stewart attended and played for Snow College for two years before arriving at BYU. While he was successful at Snow, being second in the nation with a total of 39 touchdowns, BYU was always his dream school.

“I grew up going to BYU football games with my dad,” Stewart said. “I always wanted to be a starting quarterback here. It’s a dream come true, and now I’m ready to take the helm and lead this team to victories.”

Despite losing to Utah State, Stewart is confident in his ability to step in the shoes of Hill.

“Honestly, I love it,” Stewart said. “I want to get back out on the field. I was laying in my bed till 3 a.m. Friday night just wanting to be back on the field. There’s nothing like that adrenaline rush, and I felt like I was starting to get into the groove of things. I’m just excited to get back on the field and play.”

The question has to be asked, though, about whether Stewart will be able to lead the football team down the same path it embarked on with Hill.  Of course, talk of an undefeated season and Heisman are no longer a part of the picture, but there are still lofty goals for the Cougars. That puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback who has not played for a year and a half, but Mendenhall is confident and wants his team to know that Stewart is the one for the job.

“(Mendenhall) just expressed his sincere confidence in me, and he knows that I can do it,” Stewart said. “He expressed that to the team today in front of everybody that I am the guy. I’m the leader of this offense now, and everybody has faith in me. It builds my confidence even more, knowing that everyone surrounding me has that confidence. And I’m excited to see what we do.”

With a quick turnaround and only three days to prepare in practice, BYU travels to Florida to face its next opponent, University of Central Florida, on Thursday night.

For Taysom Hill, this looks like the end of the road as BYU’s quarterback for the 2014 season.

Last Friday night, toward the end of the second quarter, right after USU scored a touchdown that put the Aggies into the lead for the first time, BYU was eager to even the score before heading into the locker room for halftime. Hill took the ball and faked a pass. He did what he has become known for and ran the ball to his right, only to be met by two defenders who took him down awkwardly after a two-yard gain. Hill got up, but he immediately signaled to coaches and trainers that something was wrong.

Fans held their breath as Hill hobbled off the field, unsure about what exactly had happened. Second-string quarterback Christian Stewart immediately took the helm, but the fans focused on Hill. Hopes slowly faded as the medical team brought the cart out along to the sideline, intending to take Hill into the locker room. It seemed clear that Hill would not return to the game, but any hopes that the injury would only limit Hill for the next game or two vanished when Mendenhall later announced that Hill had a fractured leg and would be out for the rest of the season.

Taysom Hill runs the ball down field in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)
Taysom Hill runs the ball down field in the game against Utah State. (Elliott Miller)

Hill was quickly scheduled for surgery the next morning. At the time, it was clear that the fracture was significant, but it wasn’t until surgery that the true extent of the damage was known.

“I don’t know the exactness of it, other than it was two hours worth of surgery, one plate, eight screws, every (medial) ligament shredded — so significant,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. “They knew it was bad, but when they got in, it was worse.”

By the end of the day, surgery was a success. Hill expressed his thanks to fans and teammates on Twitter over the LDS General Conference weekend.

“Thanks for all the prayers and tweets tonight!! Love my team, and will be supporting them all year! #fam #CougarNation,” Hill tweeted Saturday.

BYU has a reputation for developing great quarterbacks, so devastated Cougar fans lamented over the loss of such a special quarterback. Even opposing coaches were sad to hear the news.

“I think he was an exception throughout the country,” said UCF’s head coach, George O’Leary. “I’ve seen him three or four times play, and he was just an exceptional player, and a tough injury to a great player. Really was a great player.”

However, looking ahead in the season, Stewart will not be alone as he takes on his new role. Although Hill will not play anytime soon, he will show up to the games and support his fellow BYU Cougars as they fight to keep their dreams alive.

“(Hill) will be there coaching me, being on the sideline, being that support that I can use,” Stewart said. “Honestly, I really missed that on the sideline on Friday night. You know, when Taysom comes off the field, I’ll come up to him and express things that I saw or talk to him about his reads and what he’s seeing, and I didn’t really have that on Friday, and I kind of wished I did. … I’m excited, going forward, to have Taysom there with me on the sideline.”

The game against UCF will be the first of several tests for Stewart and the Cougars as they continue to pursue their remaining season goals.  Although confident in his own abilities, Stewart will likely welcome the support of his teammates, coaches and Hill on Thursday night.

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