BYU Football: Linebacker core ready to rumble

Ari Davis
Linebacker Butch Pau’u dives to sack Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon on Sep. 3, 2016. (Ari Davis)

BYU’s defense knows this could be a special year as the team has three preseason top 25 teams scheduled in September.

Knowing a week two matchup with No. 12 LSU and visits from No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 25 Utah are around the corner have helped kickstart an exciting fall camp for the Cougars.

Leading the way for the backfield will be a core of linebackers, consisting of senior Fred Warner, redshirt junior Butch Pau’u and junior Francis Bernard.

“I think the sky is the limit for us,” Warner said. “I think we can be a very good team and defense.”

Last season, Warner had 86 total tackles and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Boise State.

Pau’u was right behind him with 83 total tackles despite playing in just 10 of the team’s 13 games.

Bernard impressed on the defensive side of the ball after switching from running back. He registered 80 total tackles, two sacks and three interceptions on the year.

At BYU football’s media day in June, Warner talked about how the linebackers have formed a strong bond and helped motivate each other with some friendly competitions.

“I feel like all three of us have a lot of talent, and we all have the potential to do great things this season,” Warner said. “It’s all about working hard right now in the offseason and putting in the extra work so we can be that force on the field when the time comes.”

The linebackers were a big part of BYU’s defense, which ranked in the top 25 nationally in 11 different categories, including No. 2 in turnovers gained and No. 4 in interceptions.

“I think creating a lot of turnovers is what made us good last season,” Warner said. “I think we need to do the same thing this year and make sure we’re more assignment sound.”

Entering the second year under defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, the defense is more familiar with assignments and what’s expected of the unit as a whole.

“There’s a lot more confidence in our team and our schemes,” Warner said. “Last season, we’re coming into a season where we have a new coaching staff, and that always brings uncertainty. This year, knowing the schemes a lot better and knowing what kind of coaches we have and believing in them, that’s huge for us.”

Helping the transition will be the 23 players with starting experience returning to the defensive backfield this year.

“Having a lot of guys back with experience under their belt (is) going to be huge for us,” Warner said. “We haven’t really been able to say that in past years, especially for the secondary.”

Warner said the energy and excitement the coaching staff brings is helping bring the team together.

“It’s a very family-oriented environment,” Warner said. “All the players love the coaches because they have our best interest in mind, and they’re always looking out for us.”

Senior Micah Hannemann said there’s energy building around the program.

“The energy is there, and we’re trying to channel it into productive ways,” he said. “There’s more people stepping up as leaders. There’s more seniors this year that have been playing that will step up as leaders.”

Secondary preview

Hannemann is projected to start at strong safety while senior Matt Hadley and junior Zayne Anderson will look to fill the gap left by Kai Nacua at free safety.

“I’m going to miss Kai (Nacua), obviously, because (Nacua) was so much fun to play with and he was just a playmaker,” Hannemann said. “We’re just going to have to have more people step up.”

Hannemann had 28 total tackles and one interception last year. Hadley had 25 total tackles and Anderson had 11 and a fumble recovery against Boise State.

The safeties are already looking to implement some of Nacua’s techniques to pick up where he left off.

“Kai (Nacua) would play mind games with the quarterback,” Hannemann said. “(Nacua) played quarterback in high school, and he taught me a little bit of it, so hopefully, I can test some of that out this year.”

At corner, BYU lost just one starter in Michael Davis.

Redshirt sophomore Dayan Ghanwoloku, sophomore Troy Warner, redshirt junior Michael Shelton and sophomore Chris Wilcox all return with starting experience at the position.

Ghanwoloku led the group with three interceptions and 48 total tackles.

Shelton played in seven games last year and had five tackles and a 52-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against Utah State.

Sophomore Austin McChesney, who was looking to get back on the field after suffering a season-ending injury against Cincinnati last year, will redshirt this year after tearing his ACL during fall camp.

Returning linebackers

  • Fred Warner, senior, 6-4, 230
  • Butch Pau’u, redshirt junior, 6-0, 235
  • Francis Bernard, junior, 6-1, 240
  • Morgan Unga, redshirt junior, 6-5, 220
  • Johnny Tapusoa, sophomore, 5-10, 230
  • Isaiah Kaufusi, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 210
  • Garrett England, freshman, 6-4, 210
  • Adam Pulsipher, redshirt junior, 6-1, 222
  • Sia’anga Moala, redshirt sophomore, 6-2, 230

Returning corners

  • Dayan Ghanwoloku, redshirt sophomore, 5-11, 190
  • Troy Warner, sophomore, 6-1, 195
  • Michael Shelton, redshirt junior, 5-8, 180
  • Austin McChesney, sophomore, 6-1, 180
  • Isaiah Armstrong, junior, 6-2, 195
  • Chris Wilcox, sophomore, 6-2, 188

Returning safeties

  • Micah Hannemann, senior, 6-0, 190
  • Matt Hadley, senior, 6-0, 205
  • Zayne Anderson, junior, 6-2, 203
  • Tanner Jacobson, junior, 5-10, 185
  • Austin Lee, redshirt sophomore, 6-0, 202
  • Kamel Greene, redshirt senior, 5-11, 185
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