BY BRANDON GURNEY
PROVO — The top faces are entirely new to BYU this spring, but the expectations are still high considering the credentials dawned upon arrival.
A lot of new faces took the field for the BYU football team on Monday, although most eyes were initially peeled toward the quarterback group, where big things are expected from both Kedon Slovis and Jake Retzlaff.
Slovis is a transfer from Pittsburgh who transferred there from USC after seeing good initial success as a freshman for the Trojans. Retzlaff was widely considered the best junior college prospect this past year after putting up big numbers for Riverside City College.
While Retzlaff didn’t participate the first day due to having an emergency tonsil removal that will keep him out for a few days, Slovis underwent a full practice regimen and generally impressed observers, including BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick.
“He looked good,” Roderick said. “He had a couple of big plays and then a couple of foul balls, which were close, but he made some good decisions and took real good care of the ball. He looks like he’s been in our system for a while.”
Slovis’ most notable throw during the open session of practice saw him hit a streaking Dom Henry up the sideline for a gain of around 45 yards.
Both Slovis and Retzlaff spoke glowingly about BYU’s quarterback system as being perhaps the main draw for them in making their transfer decisions.
“The draw for me is that it’s the best quarterback system in college football. They produce guys,” Retzlaff said. “Not only am I going to play here, I’m going to get better under coach (Roderick) and coach (Matt) Mitchell.”
Interview with Jake Retzlaff Part 1.
Very solid first interview and offers a pretty big quote on BYU’s QB system.
— Brandon Gurney (@BrandonCGurney) March 7, 2023
As for Slovis, he echoed a lot of the same sentiments.
“It does a great job at protecting the quarterback,” Slovis said. “It’s very quarterback friendly and puts you in a position to get in a good rhythm and operate…You may not hit a touchdown on every play, but you’re going to find a rhythm because of how it’s set up.”
Retzlaff spoke well of Slovis, who is expected by most to assume the starting quarterback position come the 2023 season, although being intent on providing stiff competition.
Roderick has likewise been impressed, coming away with strong first impressions.
“He’s been a great worker since he’s been here,” Roderick said. “He’s done a great job of showing no entitlements. He’s just here to work and he’s one of the guys, just like everybody else. But everybody else knows the work he’s put in before he got here.”
Both Slovis and Retzlaff spoke well of their surrounding talent with full confidence the offensive line will enhance their play along with a receiving group that has a strong grasp of the offensive flow.
“The receivers and everyone knows the offense so well,” Slovis said. “Coaches have been here a while, so it’s been established…the receivers probably know the offense better than any receiver corps I’ve been around, so that’s really nice.”
BIG CHALLENGES AHEAD
It’s no secret to anyone that BYU’s football prospects will change substantially in Big12 conference play. While the Cougars have faced stiff competition throughout the independence era, Big12 competition will provide a more steady slate of competitive teams and certainly a tougher final stretch most seasons.
“Every year there’s something that’s motivating you, but I think everybody in this place knows what we’re up against this year,” Roderick said. “There’s not a lot of Big12 teams that are afraid of us right now, so we’ve got to go and earn respect.”
For Roderick, he believes Big12 affiliation will enhance focus and motivation for the players throughout the course of the season, pointing to the 2022 season as a ready example.
“The elephant in the room (over) the last few years has been if we lose one game then we’re going to the same bowl game if we’re 10-2 or 8-5,” Roderick said. “Everyone kind of knew that, so last year we let the Oregon (loss) really affect us in a way, that even though we won the next two games, it was kind of lingering.”
Roderick pointed to Kansas State finishing 9-3 last season and still winning a Big12 championship, along with Utah providing the same record and a Pac-12 championship despite some early missteps.
“You don’t have to be perfect to play in a championship game and accomplish your goals,” Roderick said. “So I’m excited about that part of it for sure.”
—The lone touchdown scored during the open session of practice came with quarterback Cade Finnegan finding Hobbs Nyberg in the corner of the endzone from 20 yards out
—Transfer running back Aidan Robbins dressed but did not participate due to a thumb injury while receiver Kody Epps is still recovering with shoulder surgery
—converted quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters saw some action at his new running back position, catching a swing pass out of the backfield during the team session of practice
—Freshman receiver Parker Kingston showed well, hauling in several passes
—Utah transfer offensive lineman Paul Maile will be held out of the entirety of spring practices due to injury, according to coaches.
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