PROVO — Austin Collie may be the best freshman football player BYU has had in years, if not ever.
There's been some good ones. Luke Staley and Glen Kozlowski come to mind. Ty Detmer, after a redshirt year, earned MVP honors in a Freedom Bowl win over Colorado back in 1988.
But few freshmen, right off a high school assembly line, have had as big an impact as Collie has for the 4-4 Cougars, who are still in the hunt for a MWC title.
After eight games, against one of the school's toughest non-conference schedules, Collie has been consistent, if not a big-time weapon for the Cougars.
"He uses his size and speed to go after the ball," head coach Gary Crowton said. "He learns things very fast, and those things have enabled him to play early."
Collie, who is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, leads the nation's freshmen receivers in passing yards (519), receptions (43), receptions a game (5.38) and is third in receiving yards per game (64.9). He has caught five touchdown passes. Folks who keep track of such things believe Collie has yet to drop a pass this season.
Crowton cannot think of another freshman he has coached, at this level, at that position, who has excelled like Collie has this early. "He reminds me of Chad MacKay, at Louisiana Tech. They have similar size and speed but Austin is a tougher receiver."
Collie trails BYU junior college transfer receiver Todd Watkins by one catch and 322 yards receiving, but has one more touchdown catch.
In the MWC, the league's top receiver is San Diego State's Jeff Webb, who has 49 catches, five more than Watkins, six more than Collie.
Watkins, however, is the MWC leader in yards per game receiving, sixth in the nation with 107.5 yards per games.
MWC HONORS: Quarterback John Beck and kicker/punter Matt Payne received Mountain West Conference player of the week honors Monday.
Beck was 20 of 31 for 319 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against Air Force. Payne was recognized for the seventh time in his career and fourth time this season. He set a BYU record with his 64th straight successful extra point, after making all five attempts Saturday. He also connected on field goals from 23 and 53 yards, and executed a fake punt on a fourth-and-3 from the Air Force 45-yard line, running 20 yards for a first down.
THIS WEEK: BYU had a regular practice schedule on Monday and today will give prep-squad and junior-varsity type players a chance to scrimmage and have a game. Crowton will practice his squad hard on Wednesday before giving time off Thursday through Sunday. "We will go through an evaluation process of our players and program and go recruiting this week," Crowton said.
INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end and deep snapper John Denney (knee and wrist) should be able to play against San Diego State in two weeks. Offensive lineman Hanale Vincent, who had abdominal pains and a fever last week should be cleared, according to Crowton. The week off will give Curtis Brown, Watkins, Collie, John Beck and Daniel Coats time to heal, "and they need it," Crowton said.