August is less than 10 days old, and Utah's five college head football coaches already are conversing in fluent CoachSpeak. BYU coach LaVell Edwards has uttered his trademark "we're obviously happy . . ." opening statement Tuesday, signaling the kickoff of the 1995 season.
Edwards joined his four coaching counterparts in previewing the state's football programs at the annual preseason media luncheon Tuesday (the weekly Big 5 Huddle has been renamed the Big 570 Huddle by current sponsor Sports Radio 570). Cliches and time-tested football phrase were plentiful."We all sound the same, I know - I do try to come up with something different," said Edwards. Then, with the media audience chuckling, he quickly lapsed back into CoachSpeak when introducing the '95 Cougars: "We've got a chance to be pretty good if we stay healthy and whatever else.
With '95 season openers three-plus games away, can game faces be far behind?
The Deseret News will provide its own in depth preseason previews of the state's five programs in coming weeks. Following are some of the highlights from Tuesday's gathering:
"Our football team is going to be very interesting," said coach Ron McBride. "We've got a lot of question marks, but we have a lot of athleticism, too."
Anchoring the Ute program will be the defense, which McBride says is as strong as last year's squad but much quicker this season. The line seems fine, featuring brothers Henry and Jeff Kaufusi, a pair of returning starters. And despite key departures, the secondary welcomes back the likes of Cal Beck and Brandon Dart.
The U. offense exemplifies the Utes as a whole - rather young and somewhat inexperienced, especially along the line. The Brandon Jones/Mike Fouts battle for starting QB continues, and WR Kevin Dyson and RB Juan Johnson have shown the benefits of off-season physical refinement.
JC transfer Steve Sarkisian will be counted on to step in at QB and lead the Cougars after just 15 days of spring ball and 29 fall practices. With BYU looking at starting against Air Force, UCLA, San Diego State and Colorado State, "it can't be one of those standing starts that we've been notorious for," Edwards said.
The offense's skill-position corps seem fine, including WR Mike Johnston, RB Hema Heimuli and the talented TE tandem of Chad Lewis and Itula Mili. But an inexperienced offensive line already suffered a setback with guard William Knight out for the year with a ankle sprain and subsequent severe infection.
The secondary is the unit of concern again this year, with inexperience and depth two worries. "We'll be pretty solid up front," said Edwards, pointing to the likes of John and Stan Raass, Mike Ulufale and Shay Muirbrook.
In their preseason poll, Big West coaches picked the Aggies to finish seventh, prompting first-year USU coach John L. Smith to quip: "Personally, I think that was a little high." Then he added, "I think we're going to be competitive. If we stay healthy, we'll get after some people."
The defense will be, in Smith's words, "very, very young - immature and not as big and strong as we'd like to be."
Patrick Mullins, a Georgia JC transfer, will start ahead of Matt Wells at QB, with WR Kevin Alexander, WR Ivy Russell and RB Abu Wilson heading a host of talented skill-position players. "Offensively, we've got a chance to be a pretty good team," Smith said, saying a transfer-laden line is a concern.
The Wildcats played the '94 season looking over their shoulder, wondering if they were to fall victim to the proverbial budgetary ax. Coach Dave Arslanian and his staff turned into marketing, sales and promotions experts - the result was tripled attendance totals and more than tripled program revenues, he said.
"Now we're looking forward to proving what we can do on the football field," said Arslanian, who welcomes back a dozen-plus returning starters.
Bryan Martin is back at QB, with Von Robinson and JC transfer Clemente Sainten looking to fill the backfield vacancies in what Arslanian promises to be a balanced attack. And while the defense has fewer returning starters, it does feature an experience-laden secondary.
Thunderbird coach Jack Bishop isn't shy in admitting how much time and effort has been spent trying to get SUU admitted into the Big Sky Conference. And he isn't bashful about wondering why the T-birds have - so far - ended up being the Big Sky's jilted suitor. "That still isn't a done deal," he said.
For a third season of Division I-AA ball, Bishop dipped heavily into the JC ranks - especially linemen. "We found out that we just weren't physical," said Bishop of the upgrade program. "We've got three starters back from last year (on the line) and I'm happy to report that none will start this year."
One beneficiary will be QB Rick Robins, who has 33 consecutive starts for SUU. And look for WR/DB Kevin Cuthbertson to play both ways for the T-birds.