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By Brandon Gurney
PROVO — A lot of changes are well underway on the defensive side of the football during BYU spring football practices, leading to a lot of optimism, and for good reason. A lot of new faces accompany each position group with several obvious standouts emerging along with some who may not be as hyped, yet nonetheless are catching the eye of coaches in bids to contribute this coming season.
So who are those players?
We break it down here, based on personal observations, interviews and from what we’ve heard coming out of practice sessions with regards to which defensive players are hovering both above and below the radar this spring.
Over the radar: Tyler Batty is well over the radar with regards to his standout play and with how often he’s talked about by coaches.
The 6-foot-5, 273 pound Payson product is entering his junior season and is poised to become a primary playmaker for the Cougar defense from his defensive end position.
“Tyler Batty has done some really good things,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “He’s just way further ahead than where I thought he would be, and he’s really starting to come into his own. I usually don’t talk about individuals, but I think he is a guy who stands out.”
Under the radar: He’s not a newcomer, but it’s likely a lot of fans have forgotten about BYU senior Atunasia Mahe. The 6-1, 315 defensive tackle has been riddled with injury issues throughout his BYU career, but when healthy, he’s proven to be extremely effective in stuffing the run and mounting effective pass rushes.
Should he remain healthy, or at least relatively so, Mahe should provide stellar play for a BYU defensive front that has taken it on the chin during recent years.
Just missing the cut is Boise State transfer Isaiah Bagnah, who has been a standout during open sessions of practice and has been mentioned frequently during interviews as a player standing out and looking like a strong contributor come fall.
Bagnah, a 6-4, 235 rush end from Canada, has been seeing a lot of reps with the first-team defense and his play indicates that he stays there throughout the fall practice session and into the regular season.
Over the radar: With Max Tooley sitting out practices with injury, Ben Bywater has taken the lead as BYU’s primary playmaker and leader among a relatively young linebacking group.
Bywater is entering his junior year and looks to improve upon his already impressive credentials under new defensive coordinator Jay Hill’s more aggressive system.
Under the radar: He’s been mentioned so many times already that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to label freshman Isaiah Glasker as someone hovering below the radar. The 6-5, 220 product from Bingham High School showed a lot of potential throughout his prep career and is beginning to realize it early as he makes a strong bid for consistent playing time this coming season.
Others just missing the cut include fellow freshmen Ace Kaufusi and Maika Kaufusi.
Over the radar: Micah Harper immediately served notice as someone ahead of the curve during his freshman season before his initial year was disrupted due to injury. The 5-10, 192 pound former cornerback is now assuming starting reps at safety and looks again to be ahead of the curve according to Cougar coaches and insiders.
Under the radar: I love pointing out a player most fans aren’t likely to recognize, and that would be the case with Chika Ebunoha.
Ebunoha is a 6-0, 180 product from Arizona who has wowed many with his abilities so far this spring. He has a ways to go in warranting immediate playing time, but given what he’s shown athletically, don’t be surprised if he lands himself on the 2-deep roster sooner rather than later.
Over the radar: This one feels too easy, but it’s clearly been Weber State transfer Eddie Heckard so far this spring. The 5-10, 190 Las Vegas native has assumed the starting role immediately and doesn’t look to give it up any time soon.
Heckard has a wealth of experience and has proven to be everything coaches were hoping for so far this spring.
Under the radar: Depth behind Heckard and Jakob Robinson is sketchy at cornerback, to say the least. Fortunately there’s some good promise looking to assert itself and one of the more likely candidates is freshman Marcus McKenzie.
McKenzie was a prized signee from St. George a few years back and is recently returned from missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The 6-0, 172 speedster is seeing most of his reps with the second-team defense and has recently shown the ability to make standout plays as he grows more acclimated to the football regimen following his mission service.