BY BRANDON GURNEY
PROVO — BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga doesn’t present the demeanor of someone having to replace his top two running backs from a season ago.
Yes, the Cougars enter the 2023 season without the services of both Christopher Brooks and Lopini Katoa, but return some good proven talent along with at least one very notable newcomer in UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins.
“We’re definitely the most well-rounded we’ve been in a long time,” Unga outlined. “I feel like with Miles (Davis) and Folau (Hinkley Ropati) that you have some guys with experience that can do everything…and then you add Aidan (Robbins) into it…he’s done some amazing things at UNLV and you see glimpses of him doing it here.”
Robbins offers a hulking 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame to the BYU backfield, although looks can be deceiving, according to Unga.
“He’s smooth,” Unga described. “For as big as he is really a smooth runner and he really has a lot of knowledge about the game. He’s already learned the offense and he’s teaching a bunch of these young guys what to do. So it’s cool to see that.”
Robbins wasn’t able to take part in team drills, due to a minor thumb injury, but has roundly impressed coaches and teammates in other team activities.
“He looks the part, and when watching the film, he definitely plays the part, too,” Unga said. “Hopefully he will be one of the guys here that we remember for a long time.”
Cougar Nation is gonna love @theaidanrobbins
Caught up with the big man today and came away impressed!
What y’all think?
Future is bright and will be fan favorite imo. pic.twitter.com/wJRTLeO9US
— Benjamin Criddle (@CriddleBenjamin) March 11, 2023
Although expectations for Robbins are high, the Louisville product will have to beat out at least two notable proven playmakers, starting with senior Hinckley Ropati (5-10, 215), who ended the 2022 in strong fashion.
“He’s definitely boosted his confidence finishing the season the way he did,” Unga said. “But it also opens up so many things for our offense in being able to utilize him in so many ways. The kid can run the ball…but he’s also a really good route-runner and someone who can catch the ball, too. So it’s fun to see…he can play a lot of different roles.”
One of the more intriguing names competing the Cougar backfield belongs to sophomore speedster Miles Davis, whom Unga says has added a lot more than just speed to his resume.
“He’s right there with (Ropati) right now, in my opinion,” Unga said. “He’s done some awesome stuff and you’ve seen a little bit of it in the Wyoming and Utah State games, but I think now, coming back out now, you can see the confidence coming out and it brings a whole other dimension to the offense.”
Davis showed plenty of potential during last season’s 38-24 win over the Cowboys where he ran the ball for 131 yards on just 13 carries.
Along with Ropati and Robbins, Unga feels Davis can present some headaches for opposing defenses, with each back showing good diversity in fulfilling multiple roles.
“He’s not just a speed back,” Unga said of Davis. “He’s bigger than people think. So short-yardage stuff I can put whoever I want in…whoever I have in there I hope defenses are ready for a ride because there’s so many things we can do with all of them.”
Perhaps the biggest wild card in the backfield is converted quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, who showed plenty of ground prowess in his single start at quarterback in last year’s bowl win over SMU.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to get, but this spring has been awesome for him,” Unga said. “What we saw in the bowl game — we were skeptical on how it would translate, but he’s done so amazingly…it’s been fun to see his transition.”
Unga also expressed praise toward newcomers such as Helu Nukuluve (6-1, 215 Fr.) and Enoch Nawahine (6-1, 210 So.), among others.”
Unga made clear that his expectation for his position group isn’t just to be productive, but to be leaders within the offense with the goal of mastering all facets of the game during spring practices.
“Stay healthy, obviously, but also just owning the offense,” Unga said of his group’s primary goals this spring. “Just going out there, and even if the play-call isn’t perfect, these guys can get guys in the right place, even with (these quarterbacks) being new…So owning the offense and making it an emphasis of teaching these new guys — that’s what I want to get out of spring.”