BYU makes its Big 12 football media days debut

It’s the dawn of a new era at BYU.

Twelve days following the school’s long-awaited entry into the Big 12, BYU football made its inaugural appearance as the conference’s media days beginning Wednesday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

While all of the new conference festivities have been exciting for the previously independent Cougars, head coach Kalani Sitake hopes to avoid losing focus of the why behind it all.

“I want to make sure that we’re not just happy with being invited (to the Big 12),” Sitake said. “I want to make sure that we represent well in many ways, on the field of competition but also in who we are. I want us to remember what got us here. It’s us being unique and different. Let’s make sure we give everything we have and represent well.”

The Cougars were represented in “JerryWorld” by Sitake, quarterback Kedon Slovis, wide receiver Kody Epps, defensive end Tyler Batty, linebacker Ben Bywater and punter Ryan Rehkow, along with athletic director Tom Holmoe on the administrative side of things.

Slovis, the newest addition to the pack as a recent transfer from Pitt, was quick to praise his new program when speaking with the scores of national media members.

“The camaraderie and community here at BYU are super important. I feel like I was brought in by my teammates really fast. Coach Kalani has built a special culture that is all about family and loving one another, which is really important to remember through a long football season.

“Our motto is “love and learn” and I think that’s such a great philosophy and way to go about it. You’re not pressing on kids and you’re not looking over your shoulder worried about what happened or your expectation or your standard. We do things the right way.”

Now part of a league for the first time in over a decade, the Cougars will have the chance to play the same teams each year, develop longstanding rivalries and compete for something more valuable than solely individual pride.

“There are conference rankings and a conference title on the line, that’s super exciting,” Batty said. “You always want to win games, but we can look at where are we in the conference standings. The chance to win an actual conference title is exciting…there is now more on the line now.”

Off the field, Big 12 membership brings plenty of benefits to BYU as an institution, which Holmoe addressed in regard to financial implications.

“We’re prognosticators and we’re constantly looking out and projecting what our budget is going to be down the road,” Holmoe said. “A very important position on my staff is the CFO and a financial strategist which is one in the same. It comes into play a lot. I don’t think a day’s gone by where we don’t talk about (the financial impact). But, it’s better. We do things a little bit differently at BYU money-wise. If we try to do it another way, we will fail.”

One of the more innovative conferences in the country, Big 12 leadership has expressed interest in taking its brand overseas with different international opportunities, a movement Holmoe expressed his full support for in regard to the immediate proposal to play football games in Mexico.

“I didn’t even ask what the perimeters were, I just said that we are in because we have an international influence,” Holmoe said. “We are talking about Mexico, we could play down there and not bring people from the United States and get a great crowd.”

While the Cougars were picked by conference pundits to finish 11th among the 14 teams this fall, Slovis and Bywater seemed unfazed by the lack of outside optimism for BYU and ensured their confidence in the program’s process.

“It can always help motivation but at the end of the day we don’t look outside the program to set the foundation of our success,” Slovis said. “We set our own precedent. We are focused on the process and not necessarily the result, but if we focus on the process and getting better every day and we think the result will take care of itself.”

“We feel ready, we do,” Bywater said. “It’s one of those things where we have been putting in work all offseason. It’s been looming over our heads for a long time. It’s time to take the leash off the dogs and let them go. I am really excited for our boys this year.”

With media days continuing for the next few days, Sitake feels a sense of gratitude for the chance to even be in such a position due to the achievements and sacrifices of many who came before him.

“It’s not just the people who are here or the administration and leadership but the people who were here before,” Sitake said. “I keep thinking about LaVell. It’s a really cool feeling for me, to think about all those who have played in the past. You can feel the energy. It’s almost so thick, you can grab it.”

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