PROVO — Mike Borich, the cleat-wearing BYU offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, has a dearth of experienced pass-catchers to work with this spring.
The Cougars' top three wideouts from a year ago — Margin Hooks, Jonathan Pittman and Ben Horton — are gone. The only returnee who saw significant minutes in 2000 is Mike Rigell (21 receptions). He is joined by Soren Halladay, Justin Anderson and Andrew Ord, who, combined, had five catches.
Meanwhile, perhaps BYU's best receiver heading into the 2001 season, Junior Mahe, is not participating in spring drills.
But Mahe, who signed with BYU in February, has been hanging around practice sessions in street clothes, observing the Cougars' revamped offense and talking with teammates and coaches. Already, he's listed No. 1 on the projected fall depth chart.
No wonder. In 1998, Mahe earned WAC freshman of the year honors as a BYU running back, gaining 491 yards on the ground. In the summer of 1999, he withdrew from school due to Honor Code violations and last fall he enrolled at Dixie State College, where he switched to receiver and caught 57 passes for 1,387 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Mahe is a perfect fit in coach Gary Crowton's wide-open offense.
The 5-foot-10 junior is looking for a fresh start. This fall, Mahe says, he'll go by Reno — as he did at Brighton High School — rather than Junior.
"My family wants me to go back to the name Reno," he explained. Mahe's BYU debut as "Reno" will be the season-opener at LaVell Edwards Stadium against, of all teams, Nevada-Reno.
During his time away from BYU, Mahe was recruited by schools all over the country, including North Carolina State — which had hired former Cougar offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "I was two days away from going to State," he said. "But Chow left (for Southern Cal in December), so I guess it's a good thing I didn't go there."
In his heart, Mahe's wish was to be a Cougar again. "I want to finish something I started, to prove something to myself," he said. His girlfriend, 6-foot-2 BYU women's volleyball star Sunny Tonga, was also a motivating influence to return to Provo. "She always brightens my days."
After a tough couple of years, Mahe has matured, according to Cougar coaches who know him. Reno agrees. "Dixie woke me up a lot. I'll always be grateful for the lessons I learned down there," he said. "The most important thing is life. Football is a bonus."
TRIPLE THREAT?: After a five-year hiatus, BYU just might be back in the tight end business. Not since 1996, when the Cougars had two stars at that position in future NFL players Chad Lewis and Itula Mili, has the tight end made major contributions.
This season, BYU has added junior college All-America Spencer Nead to the fold to complement veterans Gabriel Reid and Doug Jolley. BYU is so deep at tight end that coaches have moved former Logan High School All-America Brandon Stephens, a redshirt freshman, to defensive end.
"It's nice to have three guys who can be productive," said tight ends coach Mike Empey. "Spencer, Gabriel and Doug have been very good this spring. Our tight ends will be really involved this season." Crowton's offensive scheme will call for the Cougars to line up in double-tight end formations from time to time.
Over the years, the Cougars have been known for tight ends, including Clay Brown, Gordon Hudson, David Mills, Chris Smith, Lewis and Mili. "We want to bring that tradition back to BYU," Nead said. Nead, who caught 53 passes for 625 yards last year at Ricks College, believes he, Reid and Jolley will be a force in 2001 — not only catching the ball, but blocking, too.
"With a one-back offense that Gary runs, the tight ends have to block well," Empey said.
"You've got to be able to do everything in this offense," Nead said. "It's up to us to get the job done. If you're good, you're going to get the ball."