BYU football running backs ready to ‘carry the load’
Tyler Allgeier’s monstrous 2020 season caught plenty of observers by surprise. Allgeier’s teammate Lopini Katoa, however, was not one of them.
“For the people on the outside looking in, Tyler came out of nowhere,” Katoa said. “But for those of us who see what’s happening, he didn’t. I always knew that Tyler was a great running back, so I wasn’t surprised at all when he started going off doing the things he did.”
While some may peg him as a late bloomer, Allgeier’s entire career at BYU has been that of a selfless contributor. The Fontana, California native joined the Cougars as a walk-on in 2018 when the program was unable to offer any additional scholarships. He spent his first season primarily redshirting on the sidelines before being asked to switch positions and play linebacker the following year.
When patience finally opened an opportunity for Allgeier to play as a featured back this past season, he was off to the races, rushing for 1,150 yards and averaging an eye-popping 7.5 yards per carry. Allgeier’s 13 touchdowns, good for 10th in the country, were the most ground scores in a season by a Cougar since Harvey Unga in 2007.
Unga, who graduated as BYU’s all-time leading rusher, now works closely with Allgeier as BYU’s running backs coach, guiding one of the team’s deepest position groups.
“How can you not feel great?” Unga said coming off of a successful 2020 season. “It was a fun season to start with and accomplish the things that we did, and are continuing to do.”
All eyes will be on BYU’s offense this season for an encore performance, albeit without quarterback Zach Wilson, and the highly-potent running back corps looks ready to rise to the occasion.
“I want them to carry the load this year,” Unga said of the running backs. “Having last season under our belt and knowing what we’re capable of … we need to do our part and take the pressure off everyone else.”
“Carrying the load” begins with the returning production from Allgeier and Katoa, who form one of the nation’s premier running back duos. With the fleet-footed, aggressive Allgeier and dynamic Katoa, BYU’s “bash brothers” have been a match made in heaven for the Cougars, putting points on the scoreboard while getting the most out of each other.
“He and I are a one-two punch,” Allgeier said of his relationship with Katoa. “We just compete with each other and make sure we’re both fresh on the field.”
Katoa has spent the past three seasons serving as a consistent, capable pass-catcher out of the backfield, racking up 1,920 total yards with 22 touchdowns in his career thus far. This past season Katoa added 737 total yards, eight touchdowns and one of the year’s most viral catches in the bowl victory over UCF, when he dove and caught the ball at full extension in midair.
“(Tyler’s) success also pushes me to be better,” Katoa said. “We compete with each other, so his success made me better.”
Following the terrific tandem of Allgeier and Katoa, the door is wide open for any of the roster’s remaining tailbacks to get carries within the rotation. Among the mix of youngsters are Sione Finau and Jackson McChesney, who both tallied 100-yard games in 2019 before injury troubles, but will enter training camp completely healthy. Junior college import Hinckley Ropati and freshman speedster Miles Davis were two additional names who stood out for Unga during spring practices.
“We got a glimpse at Hinckley last season and he’s another guy who will do some great things,” Unga said. “Miles Davis is a phenomenal athlete and great playmaker.”
Competition has been the story of BYU’s roster this offseason, and the running backs are no different. In determining reps on the field, all that Unga wants to see from his players is their best possible effort.
“I’ve told these guys that whoever plays the best and does their job the best is going to play,” Unga said. “If they don’t like it, they can stop playing running back or challenge the guy in front.”
While the players compete for spots on the field, Allgeier said the main focus of the offseason grind has been the team’s best interest and each player doing his part.
“We’re going to come in and prove the haters wrong,” Allgeier said. “We have the pieces of the puzzle, we’re just going to fit it all together. This offseason we’re all working hard just to do our part.”
Unga credits the team-first mentality with strengthening both the abilities of the players along with their overall chemistry together.
“Nobody seems to be complacent,” Unga said. “Watching them in the weight room and how they run in conditioning, they’re pushing themselves to the limit and it’ll help our room be more unified. They may be competing for spots, but if they work hard and push each other, they won’t skip a beat.”
While the running backs are unsure if they’ll be taking handoffs from Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney or Jacob Conover at quarterback this season, Allgeier and Katoa are both confident that the coaching staff will choose “the right guy” to start under center in week one.
“Whoever wins (the competition) will be the one for the job,” Katoa said. “If you have to beat out the other two guys, I trust you.”
Not only are the running backs confident in the quarterback situation, they’re equally confident they can carry the load to assist a seamless transition on offense.
“I want the pressure on us,” Unga said. “The more pressure we can take on us, I feel will help out everybody else in the offense.”