PROVO — Last fall, Jernaro Gilford spent most of his time at practice on the sidelines, nursing his injured leg, working out with strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer and feeling frustrated.
Nowadays, Gilford is feeling as healthy as he has for a long time. During spring drills, Gilford has been doing what he does best — playing cornerback. He's blanketing wide receivers, knocking down passes, making tackles and generally showing the skills that made him a first-team All-Mountain West Conference performer in 2001.
Gilford credits Omer and the team trainers for helping him return to full strength — or at least close to that. "Right now, I'm at about 85 percent," Gilford said.
BYU trainer George Curtis is impressed with Gilford's progress. "You wouldn't know anything's wrong with him," he said. "He doesn't even come in for treatment anymore. He used to live in (the training room)."
In 2002, he played sparingly. He got into seven games, recording 15 tackles and one interception. "It was frustrating," Gilford says now, "knowing I could have helped the team." One of his few highlights in 2002 was picking off San Diego State quarterback Adam Hall in the end zone late in the fourth quarter of the Cougars' victory over the Aztecs.
New BYU defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall says he likes Gilford's abilities.
"From what I see, I think he's an excellent corner," he said. "I think he will have an outstanding season. He's training hard, he's conditioning hard, he's lifting hard and he's playing hard out on the field. He's working at maybe a more accelerated pace to become an outstanding player."
Gilford is looking forward to being a major contributor on the Cougar defense again. "I can't wait," he said.
SHORT STORY: Among other things, Mendenhall's wardrobe has been the talk of spring practices. Temperatures have dipped below freezing while the Cougars conduct early morning drills, yet the BYU defense coordinator is clad in shorts. Mendenhall doesn't see it as a big deal.
"I've never worn long pants in my coaching career," he said. "I just want our players to know that when I'm out there on the field, I intend to work. They're out there in their practice gear, running around, and you can't run around in jackets and snow boots and stocking hats. I really don't know why I shouldn't be held to the same standard."
NOTES: BYU will hold its first scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning. It will be closed to the public. The annual Blue-White game will be held on March 22 at noon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.