Confidence in abilities and trust between coaches and players were common themes of players’ and coaches’ remarks as fall camp kicked off this week in 90-degree weather at the Student Athlete Building practice field.
“It was a good day on both sides of the ball,” said coach Kalani Sitake after Thursday’s practice.
With the coaching staff settled in for year two, Tanner Mangum the starting quarterback and a difficult offseason behind them, the coaches and players are excited about the prospects of the season.
“I came out here and I felt really good,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “I felt like a lot of guys are already in shape.”
Warner, a senior, is part of an experienced group of linebackers that includes junior Butch Pau’u and junior Francis Bernard. Last season, under the new coaching staff, the defense adjusted to a 4-3 scheme with an outside linebacker.
“In Bronco’s defense, I wasn’t covering half as much as I was last season, but I knew that I was completely capable of doing that, and I had no problem doing that,” Warner said.
He said the change has been good.
“I think it’s helped me a lot just in regards to going to the next level, showing what I can do in all areas,” he said.
The defensive line this year will see the return of junior Corbin Kaufusi, sophomore Trajan Pili and senior Handsome Tanielu. The trio combined for 50 total tackles last year.
The defensive line will also see Sione Takitaki return after missing the second half of the 2015 season for a team rules violation and all of 2016 for unspecified reasons.
Kaufusi said Takitaki’s return is exciting.
“He’s a phenomenal player, so he’s going to be a huge help to the D-line this year,” Kaufusi said. “He’s a brother that we missed a lot last year, so we’re happy to have him back.”
Kaufusi said the chemistry among the defense is improving and building upon last year. He also likes the depth of the defensive line.
“We have a lot of guys that got playing time last year and a lot of young guys coming in,” he said.
Kaufusi, who played basketball and football last year, will play just football this year. He said sticking with one sport is helping him already.
“It’s helped a ton,” Kaufusi said. “You have your mind set, so you can just put your full effort into it. There’s no turning back, so it’s been an amazing experience.”
On the offensive side, the team is excited to see how Tanner Mangum will do this year as quarterback. Mangum, who passed for 3,377 yards during his freshman season, is the undisputed starter at quarterback this year. Mangum said knowing he will be the starting quarterback has helped him have confidence and motivated him to be well prepared for the fall.
“It’s been a huge offseason for me,” Magnum said. “I’ve been working really hard … so now to be able to come out here and put it on the field, it’s exciting.”
While Mangum is the definite starter, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said the second string position has yet to be solidified. Sophomores Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer Jr. are competing for the spot.
“They understand it, they’re seeing it, they’re smooth with it,” Detmer said, referring to the players’ grasp of the Cougars’ offensive style. “We want to give them plenty of time (for the coaches) to know … right now it’s kind of up for grabs.”
For now, fall camp has included a fairly consistent rotation among the quarterbacks.
“Early on we want to get a look at everybody,” Detmer said. “As we start getting closer to game time, we’ll start narrowing it down and getting the guys reps that will also be playing.”
Detmer said sophomore quarterback Austin Kafentzis’ athleticism has shown at camp, and things are “happening quickly” for him. Kafentzis is a transfer from Arizona Western and a former standout at Jordan High School, where he earned 13 records in the state of Utah, including passing yards, rushing yards and touchdowns. He was the first high school player in the United States to hold state records in both passing yards and rushing yards.
“He’s one of those athletic guys who may end up playing somewhere else for us depending on the field, and then (we may) have some packages for him where we can utilize him best to his abilities,” Detmer said.
The offense will have a lot to make up for in the rushing game with the loss of all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams and Taysom Hill.
So far in camp, running back Squally Canada has received a lot of reps, and many running backs have been put in short passing situations.
Mangum said he’s been pleased to see the running backs do more than just run, and he wants them to be multidimensional.
“I know they’re talented … just no one really knows anything about them yet,” Sitake said, referring to the running backs. “I promise you that they’ve got a lot of talent, and people will know who they are.”
Detmer said while many of the running backs are new or less experienced, they seem promising.
“We’re young skill-wise, but we feel like we’re talented, so it’s a matter of getting those guys experienced in our system,” he said.
In the wide receiver position, the team is looking to make up for the loss of Garrett Juergens, Mitchell Juergens, Nick Kurtz and Colby Pearson.
Senior Jonah Trinnaman is expected to be a leader on the field this year among a wide receiver group containing a total of just four upperclassmen. Trinnaman, who played for BYU last year after transferring from Snow College, said he hopes to simply lead by example.
“I come out here and just try to think about how I can get better every day, so I think that’s what everybody’s doing,” he said.
Mangum said sophomore wide receiver Micah Simon has been making some good plays as well. He also said the slot position is seeing a lot of speed.
At the tight end position, junior Moroni Laulu-Pututau has been looking good, Mangum said.
While the offense includes many inexperienced players in skill positions, the offensive line is the opposite. With the return of contributors Tuni Kanuch, Tejan Koroma, Keyan Norman and Austin Hoyt, the offensive line is a seasoned group.
In the punt returner spot, Sitake said Kafentzis, Trinnaman, Aleva Hifo, Matt Hadley, Tanner Jacobson, Micah Hannemann, Michael Shelton and Micah Simon are among those competing.
Sitake said this season brings new expectations for the players, and he’s hoping the adjustments will help them reach new levels of preparation.
“We’re doing some things differently than last year,” he said. “It’s a little bit different, and we’re demanding a little bit more, but I think that’s how it’s going to be every year.”