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Open season: Cougars are getting newcomers ready for Florida State

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PROVO — BYU began preparing in earnest for defending national champion Florida State on Saturday afternoon, exactly three weeks before it meets the powerful Seminoles in the Pigskin Classic.

Though the Cougars haven't settled on a starting quarterback and are trying to fill holes on the offensive line and at cornerback, they can't wait for the challenge.

"We're ready. After two-a-days, we'll be more ready," said senior fullback Kalani Sitake. "By the time we get to Jacksonville, we'll be ready to do some damage, hopefully."

"We feel like we have nothing to lose," said sophomore QB Bret Engemann, one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. "We're not scared. We're not intimidated. We have a lot of respect for them, but we're going to give it our best shot. There's no question we'll have to play our best game to win."

Prior to its first full-squad practice, the team gathered for media day at Cougar Stadium Saturday morning. About half of the players were sporting the new bibless home jerseys.

Also new were cornerbacks Danny Phillips and Derrus Wilson, a pair of junior college transfers whom coaches are counting on to contribute immediately now that two-year starters Brian Gray and Heshimu Robertson are gone.

"They seem like guys who have their heads on straight and want to perform," safety Jared Lee said of Phillips and Wilson. "They'll be fighting for starting positions, and we feel good about them. We have to have confidence in them."

Phillips and Wilson won't be eligible to participate in drills until Monday afternoon, when their official school transcripts are expected to arrive via mail. "I want to get out there," Wilson said. "I don't like watching."

Mike Rigell, who played for the Cougars as a freshman in 1998 before transferring to Montana and, later, Foothill Junior College, has returned to bolster an already strong wide receiver corps. He is also slated to be BYU's No. 1 punt and kickoff return man. "It feels good to be back," Rigell said.

Naturally, plenty of attention between now and the Aug. 26 opener will center on the quarterbacks. Coach LaVell Edwards has confidence in Engemann and juniors Charlie Peterson and Brandon Doman, but he has no timetable, for now, on when he'll name the starter.

"We'll see how it goes," Edwards said. "We'll see if someone steps up and go from there. I'm glad we've got all three of them."

Peterson looks forward to the battle. "I see it as the best player plays," he said. "That's how I've looked at it from day one."

Running back Luke Staley says he feels "about 100 percent" after undergoing offseason knee and shoulder surgery. He's not worried about reinjuring the knee. "I've tested it good enough," the sophomore said. "I'm prepared to play in a game. I'm excited to get hit."

BYU opens two-a-days Monday and will start practicing in pads on Wednesday.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com