BYU football preview: running backs

Ari Davis
Returning running back Squally Canada had 21 carries and 3 receptions for a total of 95 yards against Boise State last year. Canada is looking to improve his numbers and carry the running load for the Cougars this year. (Ari Davis)

One of the biggest questions facing BYU’s offense heading into fall camp is how to replace the production of all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams.

Last season, BYU averaged more yards per game on the ground than through the air for the first time since 2010. More than half of the season’s rushing yards came from Williams.

The Cougars return two starters and have a pool of running backs who are looking to prove BYU can run the ball effectively in addition to a solid passing game.

“I think there’s a lot of talent there,” said head coach Kalani Sitake. “If we didn’t have talent, I’d be really nervous. Right now, there’s a committee of guys that can actually play the position, and the best will play. I think there’s also some opportunities where more than one can play at a time.”

Sitake added that each year every college football team must replace players and Sitake is confident in the talent he has coming in this year.

Redshirt junior Squally Canada is BYU’s most experienced returning running back, having played in all 13 games last year.

He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and ran for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

“My goal is to go in and make it my best year so far,” Canada said. “Every year of football in my life that I’ve played, I always get better as I get used to being in the program.”

Canada has gained 13 pounds since the beginning of last year — a year he used to watch, learn and improve with help from Williams.

“I’m gaining that confidence just from playing with Jamaal and seeing how his confidence level was,” Canada said.

He added that the two stay in constant contact during the offseason to motivate each other.  Williams was a 4th round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in April.

Canada is also motivated to play since the deaths of two family members. His grandmother died of natural causes shortly after his cousin was murdered earlier this year.

“Murder brings out anger in you; it lights a fire inside of you that you’ve never felt before, and that’s what’s driving me,” Canada said.

Canada’s mother broke the news to him before the spring football game — news that made him think twice about playing football.

After a week of contemplation, a talk with his mother helped him realize he needed to carry on and honor his family through school and football. “My goal is to be a light to them,” Canada said.

Joining Canada in the running back committee is KJ Hall, who saw action in four games last year and ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

Trey Dye, Kavika Fonua and Riley Burt all redshirted last season, giving them time to learn the system and get stronger under Sitake’s redshirt workouts.

Also in that group is highly touted freshman Ula Tolutau, who prepped at East High in Salt Lake City.

Tolutau ran for 2,465 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior in 2013. Tolutau served an LDS mission to Bakersfield, California, and was recruited by Wisconsin, Utah and Oregon State before he signed with the Cougars.

At the fullback position, BYU has three players listed on the depth chart with Brayden El-Bakri leading the way.

El-Bakri played in 12 games and scored a touchdown in the season opener against Arizona.

Running back depth chart:

  • Squally Canada, redshirt junior, 5’11,” 205 pounds
  • KJ Hall, junior, 5’9,” 180
  • Trey Dye, redshirt junior, 5’9,” 184
  • Kavika Fonua, redshirt junior, 6’0,” 215
  • Riley Burt, redshirt sophomore, 6’1,” 205
  • Ula Tolutau, freshman, 6’1,” 255
  • Brayden El-Bakri (fullback), junior, 6’0,” 240
  • Creed Richardson (fullback), senior, 6’0,” 235
  • Kyle Griffitts (fullback), sophomore, 6’3,” 240
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