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Cougs look for lift from recovered Sitake

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PROVO — His first name is Kelaokalani. Translated into English from Tongan, it means "a gift from heaven."

BYU coaches attest that's what Kalani Sitake is to the Cougars' offensive backfield. And they're praying the bruising, 6-foot, 245-pound fullback can stay healthy.

While many eyes are on sophomore Luke Staley and junior college transfer Brian McDonald, Sitake plays a large role in making BYU's running game successful.

A senior who began his Cougar career in 1994, prior to serving an LDS Church mission, Sitake knows the offense thoroughly. His ability to read defenses and block should help open up holes for Staley and McDonald. Plus, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 1999.

The Cougars have already seen what can happen without him in the lineup. Last season, Sitake broke his ankle during the Wyoming game, and his absence, along with that of Staley (who was out with knee and shoulder injuries) all but eliminated the BYU ground attack at the end of the year.

As for the ankle, Sitake says he has recovered. "It's OK. It's still sore, but it's where I want it to be." Early in the 1997 season, the St. Louis native suffered a herniated disc in his back that required surgery. He was granted a medical redshirt.

But Sitake doesn't believe his back and ankle will affect his play this season. "I'm good at putting it out of my mind," he said. "I don't hold anything back on the football field. I'm going to go 100 percent."

If he remains healthy, his contributions will be heaven-sent, indeed.

QB UPDATE: The Cougars were in full pads for the first time Wednesday. At the end of the morning session of practice, the offense and defense squared off in a 32-play controlled scrimmage. Playing against the first-team defense, quarterback Bret Engemann and Charlie Peterson each took 12 snaps against the fierce pass rush provided by defensive ends Setema Gali Jr. and Brett Keisel.

Engemann unofficially completed five of six passes, including a long strike to receiver Ben Horton, while Peterson was five of eight. Brandon Doman was behind center for eight plays and completed two of six attempts.

Quarterbacks coach Robbie Bosco says it's still too early to say who will start in the opener on Aug. 26 against Florida State. "We're looking at who handles the pressure better, who's making the reads and moving the chains," he explained. "They're all doing well and doing what we're asking them to do."

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Three former Cougars are enrolled at new schools this fall.

Cornerback Jernaro Gilford is taking classes at a junior college in Southern California following his one-year suspension from the football team in connection with a burglary charge. BYU officials decided he could remain in school, but he opted to leave for fall semester. He is set to return in January and join the Cougars for spring practice in March.

Running back Junior Mahe, who withdrew from school after his impressive freshman season in 1998, is enrolled and set to play at Dixie Junior College. According to Dixie officials, Mahe's goal is to return to BYU next season. Last spring, he applied but was not readmitted to BYU due to circumstances involving the honor code.

And running back/kick returner Jaron Dabney, who left BYU last January, is going to play for Sam Houston State in Texas.

HUSKY NOW A COUGAR: Washington sophomore outside linebacker Levi Madarieta has decided to transfer to BYU. Madarieta, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who played significant minutes as a freshman, is LDS and wanted to go to school in an LDS environment, according to Washington coach Rick Neuheisel. Madarieta, who, like BYU defensive lineman Hans Olsen, is a native of Weiser, Idaho, played in all 11 games in 1999, recording 19 tackles at strong safety. He was named the Huskies' most outstanding freshman defensive player. Madarieta will be eligible to play for the Cougars in 2001.

PRACTICES CLOSED: BYU coach LaVell Edwards has decided to close practices. One of the major reasons is the Internet. In this age of instant information, the coaches are concerned about visitors watching practices and then posting plays and other information about the team on a Web site for everyone — including opposing teams — to see.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com