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It’s showtime for BYU QB Engemann

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PROVO -- A couple of days before completing his two-year LDS mission in Boston, Elder Bret Engemann's mission president bent the rules and allowed him to watch a television program.

It wasn't just any TV show, mind you. Engemann was invited to the house of President Dale Murphy (yes, that Dale Murphy) to see an episode of "Larry King Live."Murphy had his reasons for granting the rare missionary TV viewing experience. First, King's guest that September, 1998, evening was LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Second, King happens to be Engemann's brother-in-law (King is married to Bret's sister, Shawn Southwick).

Still, Engemann was shocked when he suddenly became a topic of conversation in front of a potential worldwide CNN audience. King and Pres. Hinckley talked about him briefly during the interview -- about how Engemann would become a BYU quarterback after his mission.

"I didn't know (King) would mention me," Engemann remembered. "It was funny. The Murphy kids were running around the house yelling, 'You're famous! You're famous!' "

Not that he was a secret prior to that high-profile segment -- at least among Cougar football fans.

Engemann's real Air Time began last weekend, when he officially threw passes for BYU for the first time (the Cougars continue spring practice this week with sessions slated for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and a Friday scrimmage).

At the opening of spring drills, the gun-slinging, 6-foot-4 former Timpview High star wore a size XXXL grin. After all, he's waited long enough for this opportunity.

And BYU has waited long enough for his services. Engemann may be the most anticipated quarterback recruit to arrive on campus in years. Expectations for Engemann are already high. "He's going to be a good one, no question about that," said coach LaVell Edwards.

Yet he's not the only one vying to become Quarterback U's next QB hero. At BYU, you take a number and wait in line with the others. With senior Kevin Feterik likely entrenched as the starter, the future appears to be pretty wide open. This spring, Cougar coaches are concerned about developing Feterik's successor.

"We have four guys who are very good, young prospects," Edwards acknowledged.

He's referring to true freshman Engemann, sophomore Brandon Doman, redshirt freshman Kevin Gilbride and sophomore Charlie Peterson. Throw in Matt Berry, who will join the mix next fall and is considered to be one of the country's top prep quarterbacks, and the Cougars may have the most impressive QB depth chart in the nation.

This logjam of talent, though, is bound to generate controversy in the weeks, months and years to come. Quarterback controversy is nothing new at BYU, and it tends to have an unsettling impact. See Drew Miller, Feterik's highly regarded former backup, who transferred to Montana this offseason after he became discouraged over a lack of playing time. And remember Paul Shoemaker?

As for 1999, the starting job appears to be Feterik's to lose.

"Kevin did a very nice job last year. He has a lot of experience," Edwards said. "It doesn't mean someone else can't come along . . . but it would be hard to dislodge him."

At least one of the QBs in camp plans to do just that. "My attitude is to beat Kevin out," Doman said. "That's my goal. If it weren't, he wouldn't get better, and neither would I."

Doman was caught in the crossfire of last season's Feterik/Miller battle as the third-stringer. "It was tough for me to be a part of it," Doman said. "(But) it hasn't changed my attitude. The coaches are fair in their dealings. The best guy plays. If I'm the best, I know I'll play."

Doman sees adding Engemann to the equation as a challenge.

"With Bret around," he said, "I have to improve my game."

Engemann, the newcomer, observed the Feterik/Miller saga unfold from afar, but he remains undeterred. "The best man plays.

If I'm not the best guy, then I don't want to play," he said. "Next fall, I want to be ready to play. Kevin is the starter and I hope to be the backup and see playing time. I don't want to redshirt."

Who can blame him? Engemann has waited long enough already.

It's been three years since he signed a letter of intent with the Cougars, picking BYU over Utah, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Miami and Tennessee, to name a few. Then he left on his mission. How long has it been since he's played football? Well, put it this way: he was part of the same BYU freshman recruiting class as Feterik.

"I've been thinking about (playing for BYU) for three years," Engemann said. "I've been antsy for this since January when I got into school. I'm excited to learn the offense and let 'er rip."

Despite the two-year layoff, he says he is physically prepared for spring practice. "I'm ready to take hits. I'm looking forward to that first hit to wake me up," he said.

While few question Engemann's arm strength or competitive spirit, some have doubted his foot speed and ability to dodge a pass rush. But, Engemann explains, he has improved in that department. "That's not a weakness," he said.

Of course, he's well aware of the fact that exactly none of the "great" BYU quarterbacks in school history has been a returned missionary.

"I don't pay attention to that," he said. "My response is, 'Okay, I'll be the first.' My desire to play has only grown since my mission. I want to win now more than before."

Back when he was in the first grade, Engemann created a poster listing his three wishes in life. No. 1 was finding a cure for cancer, because his grandfather had contracted the disease. No. 2 was serving a mission. And No. 3? "To be a quarterback at BYU," he said, smiling.

Engemann's moment has finally arrived. It's showtime.