PROVO — It’s difficult to think of a BYU football fall camp that involves so many intriguing storylines as the one we’re about to cover throughout the coming month.
And this reporter has covered a lot of them.
Since BYU graciously allowed totalblueports.com access back in 2003, I’ve been there most years, actively observing the proceedings while interviewing players and coaches regarding any and all developments. Some of years have offered very interesting storylines, while others have presented little relative intrigue, but seriously, it’s hard to think of many fall camps that should match what we’re about to uncover throughout August.
So it makes honing in on top storylines difficult, considering every single position group involves a lot of potential mobility with new faces primed to take on significant roles.
Where to start?
Let’s begin with a position group that largely dictates the success of any offensive unit where there should be many moving parts throughout fall camp.
SURE THINGS: We know Kingsley Suamataia (6-foot-6, 315 pound Sophomore) will start at left tackle, and that’s pretty much all we know for certain.
Yes, there’s several surefire bets to start amongst the existing personnel, but who are those players and where will they be lining up come BYU’s first game of the season versus Sam Houston State on September 2? Take two-year starting center Connor Pay (6-5, 312 Jr.) as perhaps the best example. Yes, it’s a very good bet that Pay will start again this season, but given the transfer of Paul Maile (6-2, 300) from Utah, who also has two years of starting experience at center, and Pay’s specific starting spot isn’t exactly certain.
TOP GUNS: Pay is certainly a top gun along with Maile, given their collective experience although Maile missing the entirety of spring practices may put him a bit behind the curve despite his prior experience heading Utah’s very productive offensive front. Unfortunately the offensive line isn’t a plug-and-play position group, and probably less so than any other position group on the team, which complicates Maile’s potential contribution, along with those of several others.
Most notable would be the hopeful inclusion of Oklahoma State transfer Caleb Etienne (6-8, 330 Jr.) along with Jackson State and Utah transfer Simi Moala (6-7, 310 Sr.) Both will enter fall camp with the benefit of having started at the collegiate level, but with the detriment of not having completed a single practice session at BYU. A lot of people have pencilled in Etienne as the starter at right tackle with Moala standing as a complete wildcard having not played a down of football since 2020, and noting which position group each player is practicing with and at which specific position will be a focus.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Jake Eichorn (6-5, 295 So.) who is pretty much in the same boat as both Etienne and Moala having started for Weber State before transferring to BYU over the summer.
STRONG SPRING REVIEWS: A couple of offensive linemen who used spring practices to get a leg up on the incoming competition this fall would be Utah State transfer Weylin Lapuaho (6-4, 310 So.) and Brayden Keim (6-9, 310 Jr.) Both acquitted themselves nicely throughout the spring practice session and should subsequently be afforded good looks as potential starting options come the start of the 2023 season.
Other strong options include Missouri State transfer Ian Fitzgerald (6-6, 305 Sr.) and Butte College transfer Tyler Little (6-6, 295 So.) giving the Cougar offensive front at least ten intriguing options to start along the offensive front.
SURE THINGS: The Cougars will field a trio of proven commodities at the receiver position in Kody Epps (5-11, 187 So.), Keanu Hill (6-4, 215 Jr.) and Chase Roberts (6-4, 210 Jr.) Barring injury or other factors, each of the three should again become top options on the Cougar passing tree and see solid production throughout the 2023 football season.
EXCITING ADDITIONS: The Cougars did well in attracting intriguing talent to the receiving position via the transfer portal and through the typical recruiting process. Top transfer portal additions are both Darius Lassiter (6-3, 205 Sr.) who transferred to BYU from Eastern Michigan and Keelan Marion (6-0, 200 So.), who comes to BYU after starring for Connecticut as a freshman. Both players look to have the goods to disrupt the assumed three-man starting rotation of Epps, Hill and Roberts, and that will be a good thing for the position group and overall success of the offense.
Transfers typically aren’t added merely to provide depth, but to immediately compete for starting spots, and it’s reasonable to believe that both Lassiter and Marion will compete hard with the returning starters throughout August.
Another intriguing incoming talent is JoJo Phillips (6-5, 190 Fr.) who embarks on his first collegiate football practice session after signing with the Cougars as part of the 2023 signing class. And then there’s Devin Downing (6-1, 190 Fr.) who joins the team after completion of his tw0-year mission service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along with Koa Eldredge (5-11, 190 Fr.)
STILL HERE: We’re often consumed with incoming talent on top of proven starters at any position, but lets not forget the receivers who have practice session experience and could prove good rotating options come the start of the season. Most notable among this bunch is probably Hobbs Nyberg (5-10, 195 Jr.), but also includes options like Talmage Gunther (5-11, 190 Jr.), Parker Kingston (5-11, 180 Fr.) and Dom Henry (5-11, 175 Fr.)
FRONT SEVEN (OR SIX) PLAYMAKERS
New Defensive Coordinator Jay Hill’s defense will prove variable, and will likely employ both traditional 4-3 and 4-2-5 alignments throughout the season among other nuances. A key feature to his aggressive system will be employing top play-making options along the front at the edge or middle linebacker positions with several incoming options being asked to take on perhaps the most significant roles within Hill’s system.
TWO TRANSFERS: Both Isaiah Bagnah (6-4, 235 Jr.) and AJ Vongphachanh (6-3, 235 Sr.) are front and center as two players who will be called on immediately as top playmakers along BYU’s defensive front. The good news is both players are proven commodities, with Bagnah providing Boise State with productive playmaking and Vongphanchanh with Utah State, respectively. Both players bring similar abilities and experience to the table and should boost the defensive playmaking prospects significantly this season.
STRONG EXISTING OPTIONS: Three of the top players on the roster at any position are linebackers Max Tooley (6-2, 215 Sr.) and Ben Bywater (6-3, 235 Jr.), along with defensive end Tyler Batty (6-5, 273 Jr.) with each being front and center as leaders and standout playmakers this season. Each have shown flashes of brilliance, but will be asked to prove even more aggressive and consistent should Hill’s defense prove effective and true to its aggressive promise. Batty in particular should see much more involvement in showing off his superior versatility in the new and aggressive defensive sets.
RISING OPTIONS: There’s quite a few notable names out there that could be serving further notice throughout the fall practice session. A few names who stood out during spring practices are Isaiah Glasker (6-5, 225 Fr.), Maika Kaufusi (6-3, 210 Fr.) and Ace Kaufusi (6-4, 205 Fr.) All three were mentioned prominently throughout March and April, and could play big roles come the 2023 season.
Oregon transfer Harrison Taggart (6-1, 235 Fr.) will certainly be worth noting throughout his first BYU practice session along with recently returned missionary John Henry Daley (6-5, 225 Fr.) along with his older brother Michael Daley (6-2, 235 So.) Incoming freshman Siale Esera (6-3, 245) certainly has the potential to make an immediate impact as well.
Looking to regain the great promise he’s shown previously is Chaz Ah You (6-2, 220 Sr.), who is now listed at linebacker after battling with injury and position changes throughout his turbulent BYU football career. Should his mind and body prove on point, he could make a big impact during his final season in Provo. Also converting from safety is Ammon Hannemann (6-2, 211 Jr.) who could also provide valuable playmaking ability at his new linebacking position.
So yeah, there’s a lot of parts in play in establishing ready and active playmakers along BYU’s defensive front, which will prove pivotal in the overall defensive success.
SURE THINGS: The transfer of former Weber State standout Eddie Heckard (5-10, 190 Sr.) was essential in giving the Cougars two proven commodities at the cornerback spot as he pairs with Jakob Robinson (5-11, 170 Sr.) who is coming off a highly productive 2022 season. Heckard looked the part of a lockdown cornerback on one side of the ball during spring while it remains to be determined where Robinson will best be employed this season, whether it be directly opposite Heckard or in playing in various capacities as he did so effectively last season.
How well other cornerbacks step up will largely determine Robinson’s ultimate role and there’s several intriguing names that could take on significant playing time or even starting spots during fall practices.
NOTABLE NAMES: Kamden Garrett (5-11, 181 Sr.) is another Weber State transfer who will be competing his his first practice session and is a good bet to play a big role this season given his prior experience and familiarity with Hill’s defensive system.
Marcus McKenzie (5-11, 172 Fr.) was starting to show well in spring before going down with injury and is subsequently worth noting throughout fall practices. And then there’s JUCO transfer Jayden Dunlap (6-0, 173 Jr.) along with Mory Bamba (6-3, 180 Jr.), both of whom enter the fall session with a lot of promise that coaches will hope to realize throughout August.
BYU has enjoyed uncommon depth at the cornerback position in recent years and whether that will be reprised this year will go a long way in determining the defense’s overall success.
And finally we get to a running back position that could see a lot of mobility given the wide variety of options that will be competing for limited spots this fall.
RETURNING TALENT: The Cougars will field two proven options in both Hinckley Ropati (5-10, 215 Sr.) and Miles Davis (6-0, 210 So.), both of whom responded well when thrust into primary ball-carrying roles last season. Both competed well in spring and should be afforded the opportunity of first reps during the fall, at least initially.
BIG OPTIONS: Aidan Robbins (6-3, 230 Jr.) patrolled the sidelines throughout spring due to nursing a minor hand injury, but should be a full go this fall practice session. Robbins is an impressive specimen and showed very well in his one season playing at UNLV, making him perhaps the best bet to unseat both Ropati and Davis as BYU’s starting running back.
Colorado transfer Deion Smith (6-0, 200 Sr.) was a surprise addition to the roster over the offseason and will pair with incoming freshman LJ Martin (6-2, 205) as two options that could upset the backfield rotation significantly. Their additions provide the Cougars five promising options competing for essentially one starting spot throughout August. That’s a good thing and should enhance the overall production significantly.
ESPN960 will provide constant updates throughout a BYU fall practice session that should prove one of the most intriguing ever held in Provo as the team prepares for its inaugural season of Big12 Conference play.