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H-back is standing tall

Cougars expecting big things from ‘Idaho spud’ Meikle

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BYU walk-on H-back Nathan Meikle runs the ball at a recent practice.

BYU walk-on H-back Nathan Meikle runs the ball at a recent practice.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — He's small. He's not especially fast. He's a 5-foot-9, 175-pound walk-on. Heck, he looks more like a student manager than a football player.

So why are BYU players and coaches expecting diminutive H-back Nathan Meikle to make big contributions to the Cougars this season?

"Nate's from Idaho and he looks like an Idaho spud," said quarterback John Beck. "But you know what? I'll take that kid any day. He's just a player. A lot of people are big and physically talented. They look great on paper but they can't play football. Some people have a knack for the game and make plays. I think that's what separates Nate Meikle. That's what makes him so good. Sometimes I look at him and think, 'Man, I can't believe this is the dude that's out there underneath those pads' because you'd never guess it. He's just a football player."

Last week, during the first week of fall camp, Meikle (pronounced MICK-uhl) tested out as the best conditioned player on the roster, and he has shown the ability to get open and catch passes. Though unheralded, the junior receiver has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

At Hillcrest High in Idaho Falls, Meikle was the Eastern Idaho Athlete of the Year for his performance in baseball, basketball and football. During his prep career, he gained 3,500 yards and scored 40 touchdowns. As a senior, he rushed for 335 yards and scored five first-half touchdowns in the state playoffs and was a first-team all-state selection at running back, cornerback and return specialist.

He planned to play football at Ricks College, but the school dropped the sport while he was serving an LDS mission to Chile. When he returned, he transferred to Snow College, where he started every game at running back as a freshman and helped lead the Badgers to an 8-2 record.

As a sophomore, Meikle was voted team captain, and he ran for more than 300 yards and caught 20 passes for another 150 yards in three games before suffering an ankle injury. On the first day back from the injury, he hurt his knee.

Following the season, no Division I schools showed interest in him.

"Most people don't want a 5-9, 175-pound running back — unless you run a 4.3 (in the 40) and I ran a 4.6," Meikle said.

So, he called BYU coach Paul Tidwell, who had seen him play at Snow, and asked if he could walk on. Tidwell, and then-coach Gary Crowton, said yes.

But when Meikle arrived on campus, he weighed 195 pounds and was clocked at 4.93 in the 40. "They kept me. I don't know why," Meikle said. "Maybe Tidwell was being nice or maybe he saw something he could work with. I really don't know why they kept me."

Meikle redshirted last season, dropped 20 pounds and improved his speed. Then, in the spring, he was switched from running back to receiver (he's expected to share time with Bryce Mahuika at H-back, an inside receiver position).

"(Running backs) coach (Lance) Reynolds talked to me about it. He said there was a way that he thought I could help the team," he said. "I was fine with it. Anything to get on the field. It was difficult because I played running back since my very first day of football in the seventh grade. Playing receiver fits my style a little better. At my size, I was going to take a pounding at running back."

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae says Meikle has the attributes to play H-back, but the position has its challenges.

"The requirements of that position are being shifty, having good hands, and you've got to get open and you have to be able to make a play with the ball in the air," Anae said. "Nate's pretty dependable when it comes to those kinds of things. The tough thing is, you have to be able to block big guys. A little guy like Nate is going to have to line up with a big linebacker."

Meikle has worked hard in Jay Omer's strength and conditioning program to prepare for that challenge.

"Up to this point, he's resilient," Anae said. "He looks like he's invested in the off-season. When he came back, he looked really good. I do believe he is in great condition and he has improved in his strength in the summer. I'm pleased with Nate Meikle."

Meikle says he's not concerned about being a walk-on. "(Coaches) told me what I need to do to get a scholarship. It comes down to me making plays. It's all up to me if I earn one or not," he said. "I'll be fine without one, through student loans. A lot of student loans. But it never crosses my mind. It's not a motivating factor. Being able to play and win, you can't put a price on it. It doesn't even compare. Not once during practice have I thought, 'Gosh, it would be nice to have a scholarship.' I just want to help the team win, play at LaVell Edwards Stadium and make plays."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com,