Get to know BYU football’s newest defensive contributors
Many fans expected change on the defensive side of the ball when Jay Hill joined the coaching staff as defensive coordinator, but no one could have predicted who would be seeing playing time at one of football’s most important positions.
BYU’s safety group began to run thin after both starter Micah Harper and backup Talon Alfrey suffered injuries during fall camp. Harper’s season came to an end then and there with a torn ACL, while Alfrey’s broken collarbone should heal in time for him to come back sometime this season, according to reports.
With the first and second string strong safeties went down, many were wondering how this team would survive, especially heading into a conference that notoriously scores points through the air. When asked about how the position would be filled, Hill told reporters that this season would be, “safety by committee.”
Hill kept true to his word, playing five different players at safety in the season opener against Sam Houston and seven against Southern Utah.
Of those seven players that have seen the field for the Cougars, only two were listed as safeties on the roster last year; senior Malik Moore and sophomore Ethan Slade. So, with so many new faces playing as the last line of defense for BYU, it’s time to get to know some of the safety room.
Slade played safety last year, bouncing between the occasional rep in the nickel and strong safety positions. He didn’t see the field a lot, but took advantage whenever he did, recording 17 tackles, one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup.
This year, his role got much bigger when Harper and Alfrey went down. Slade was immediately appointed the starter at strong safety and had to adjust to being a leader of an already young group.
“You work for moments like this,” Slade said. “It’s kind of hard to grasp it sometimes because there’s so much I’ve still got to be doing . . . I know I need to earn it day in and day out.”
Slade played at Orem High School where he helped lead the Tigers to back to back state championships. He played both sides of the ball but thrived on the defensive side by leading the state in interceptions his senior year (4A). After he graduated, Slade served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Santiago, Chile.
Being a starter has looked good on Slade so far. Through two games he’s posted nine tackles, including a career high seven against Southern Utah last week. He has also recorded one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup.
Slade will look to continue to hold down the safety position as the starter for the foreseeable future, and continue to lead a young group along the way.
If you don’t know who Damuni is, you most likely have seen or heard of his dad. Jack Damuni, Raider’s father, is the current BYU Director of Football Relations and unofficial team hype man. He’s often seen pumping up the crown on the sideline, as well as over social media.
Damuni is a freshman this year, and just returned from his mission in San Francisco for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints this past December. He is early in his collegiate football career, but Hill has already trusted him enough to see some playing time early in the season.
Hill has good reason to. Damuni was a three star recruit coming out of high school and was given a top ten rating in the state of Utah. He was named the Utah 5A Defensive MVP, and was a two-time Utah 5A All-State First Team selection. He had offers from Oregon, Utah, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Mississippi State, to name a few.
Damuni’s workload has been light, recording just one bone crushing tackle against Sam Houston. His development may continue to be accelerated as the “safety by committee” continues to have all hands on deck this season.
“Mr. Reliable” is what Tanner Wall called himself when asked what Cougar fans should know about him.
A Virginia native, Wall primarily played receiver and was even recruited as one. However that didn’t stop him from dominating at pretty much every other part of the game. Wall earned First Team All-Region honors for wide receiver, defensive back, and punt returner. Wall even played quarterback his junior year.
After serving a mission in Brazil, Wall came to BYU as a receiver and was a part of that room until this past spring. Wall’s offensive experience has helped make the transition a smooth one, and it has already translated into playing time.
“It’s nice to be back there and understanding splits and concepts,” Wall said, “It’s nice to have those banked reps in my head.”
Wall has already logged six tackles through two games, and will continue to use his versatile mind and skillset to make plays for the Cougars.
Like Wall, Crew Wakley gets much of his football knowledge from the offensive side of the ball where he spent his high school years under center, tearing up local defenses on Friday nights. With an impressive stat-line of over 250 yards per game and 22 touchdowns during his senior season, Wakley committed to play football at Utah State University.
He was named region MVP at Jordan High School and given first team all-state honors in both his junior and senior seasons.
After serving his mission in Fort Worth, Texas and seeing very limited playing time at Utah State, Wakley transferred to Provo. He immediately made the move to safety and has been working as one since last spring.
Wakley has also seen action early on this season, recording two tackles against Sam Houston and QB hit against Southern Utah.
It’s clear Hill will continue to use the diverse and unique backgrounds of his “committee” to be the last line of defense for the BYU squad. Fans will continue to get to know this unlikely bunch on the field every Saturday.