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QUARTERBACK BATTLE IS ON AGAIN AT BYU

Spring football practice opens at BYU on Monday, and even the coaches are looking forward to the forthcoming quarterback battle.

"We're all a little bit excited about this," said Norm Chow, BYU quarterback/receivers coach. "This is what keeps you in college football."Chow noted, however, that there may not be a clear-cut winner when spring practice ends March 28. "It's not mandatory that we make a choice now," he said. "If someone steps up, fine."

One thing that has the coaching staff feeling confident is the number of promising quarterbacks they have to choose from.

Among the front-runners are sophomores John Walsh (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), Ryan Hancock (6-2, 205), Steve Clements (6-2, 190), Tom Young (6-1, 185) and Brock Spencer (6-3, 190). Walsh was Ty Detmer's backup last year, Clements redshirted after transferring from Texas, and Young and Spencer also redshirted last season.

"There's a lot of physical talent there," Chow said. "Tons of it."

The NCAA allows teams 15 days of spring practice over a four-week period, which at BYU culminates with the annual Blue-White game March 28. BYU's camp roster of 115 players includes 44 lettermen, 12 of whom are returning starters from last year's WAC championship team. There are also three junior-college transfers - linebackers Nathan Hall and Brian Hughes from Ricks College and defensive back Casey Mazzotta from Cerritos JC in California - and one early high school graduate, Eric Bateman, a 6-6, 265-pound offensive lineman from Camarillo, Calif.

Besides quarterback, the biggest offensive concerns are depth at running back and tight end. Chow says halfback Jamal Willis will get a lot of work this spring.

"We handled him pretty good last season, bringing him along gradually," Chow said. "Now we have to just lay it on him."

Hema Heimuli, the fullback who looked so good in last year's spring practice, will miss this session as he continues to recuperate from a ruptured Achilles tendon. But T.D. Biegel - Rocky's little brother - is back from a mission and will compete for the fullback job. Chow describes Biegel as a "Fred Whittingham-type player. He's not going to break away from anybody, but he's tough and a plugger."

Wide receiver Nati Valdez, who broke his collarbone in November, also will sit out this spring.

Defensively, the biggest holes are at linebacker and in the secondary - specifically to replace Scott Giles and Josh Arnold. With a couple of the JC defensive-back recruits not reporting until fall, the team will be a little shallow in the secondary this spring. Because of that, defensive coordinator Ken Schmidt said one cornerback spot will probably remain wide open until fall.

"Other than that, we should be pretty well shored up in all the positions," he noted.