Offseason restrictions highlight BYU Football players’ ‘self-motivated’ nature

BYU Football players have had seemingly no problems keeping themselves in shape amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to coaches and players who opened fall camp this week, the Cougars have excelled physically participating in their own personal workouts this summer.

“I feel like once you get older, you are self-motivated to get as good as you can be as a football player,” BYU senior tight end Matt Bushman said. “During quarantine, we weren’t allowed to be at BYU, so it was more about finding places to get better. There were a couple of spots where I was allowed to train and work hard in the offseason so I was able to change my body and get in good shape. I just feel really good.”

The Cougars were in the midst of their spring practices when BYU suspended all athletic events indefinitely on March 12. Less than a week later, the school announced the closure of all workout and training facilities on campus. Players were then encouraged to return home to be with their families, many of whom were out of state.

Cougar athletes across all sports were forced to get creative, with some setting up makeshift gyms in their garages. BYU eventually allowed members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams to return to campus facilities on June 1 for voluntary workouts. Despite the limited reopening, the start of fall camp on Aug. 4 marked the first official gathering for the football team since before the pandemic.

Sione Finau participates in a team drill during BYU Football’s first day of fall camp on Aug. 4, 2020. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

“I feel like a lot of the players, not having to necessarily feel like they’re required to be at these workouts, are self-motivated,” Bushman said. “I feel like it brought more out of the players and it’s been exciting to see. Being with everyone as a whole group has been really cool and everyone seems excited and glad to be back.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake also praised his team’s ability to stay focused during the offseason amid all the uncertainty. In fact, Sitake was so impressed that he began to wonder whether or not players should have increased liberty to implement their own workout plans in future offseasons.

“Guys were able to go out on their own and find their own specialized training,” Sitake said. “So it creates this intrinsic motivation that, ‘If I’m going to do this, then I’m more bought into it.’ It kind of gives you some thought of how it should be from now on. I think that keeping it more personalized may be the new way of doing stuff for us.”

ESPN 960 sports radio host and former Cougar football player Ben Criddle expressed similar feelings on Twitter in response to a photo posted by BYU offensive lineman Tristen Hoge’s father, Marty. The photo showed Hoge, who has spent much of the offseason in his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, flexing his seemingly bulked-up frame.

“I made this argument earlier in the off-season,” Criddle said in a retweet of the photo. “BYU should evaluate going back to a Lavell-Esque offseason approach. Let the kids go and train for the summer 6-12 weeks solo.”

Not everyone agrees with the idea of allowing players to hold their own offseason workouts, however. Former BYU offensive lineman Tejan Koroma responded to Criddle’s tweet by saying players can’t find better training programs than those provided by the Cougars’ strength and conditioning staff.

“No. Not smart. They’re not gonna get better training than they will (with) Coach Nu’u,” Koroma tweeted in reference to BYU’s Director of Football Strength and Conditioning Nu’u Tafisi.

Whatever the team may decide for future offseasons, BYU coaches and players acknowledge finally being out on the field together again has brought out their competitiveness and sparked a renewed excitement for the upcoming season. The Cougars’ physical progress from their personal workouts this offseason has shown just how hungry the team is to compete again.

“I think a lot of guys are frustrated about being all bottled up and now they get to get out there and play football with great competition,” Sitake said. “It’s been an awesome thing for me to see and we have great leadership. The guys are anxious. They want to get out on the field.”

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