PROVO — Now that BYU seniors David Tafuna and Dustin Gabriel are out for the season, it's time for another senior, Corby Hodgkiss, to take his turn at safety.
Tafuna became the latest Cougar, and third defensive starter since fall camp began, to be sidelined for the year when he suffered a serious foot injury, tearing the Lisfranc joint, Wednesday afternoon. Gabriel is undergoing surgery today on both feet.
Hodgkiss, who started fall camp behind Gabriel and Tafuna at the kat safety position, was set to play with the first team Thursday when coach Bronco Mendenhall surprised the team by telling them they were taking the day off to watch a movie.
"I really couldn't sleep last night. I was excited about this practice," Hodgkiss said. "I was kind of down that we weren't going to have it. I'm going to enjoy the break, but I was ready for this practice."
A senior from Irving, Texas, Hodgkiss has been in the program since 2002, when he redshirted as a freshman. Following an LDS mission, the 5-foot-11, 206-pounder returned to Provo and has seen significant playing time. He has played in every game the past two seasons, and he started two games in 2005.
Still, Hodgkiss knows that outsiders may doubt him and his abilities because he started fall camp as a third-stringer.
"What they don't realize is that I've started games before, I've been here for a while. I don't doubt myself at all," he said. "I'm confident. I'll prove myself. I've proven myself out here throughout camp. I'll prove myself in the first game and the next 12 or 13 games. It doesn't matter to me what other players say. I'm going to work hard every day. That's all that matters to me. I'm excited for the opportunity."
Hodgkiss said while he is saddened by Tafuna's injury, he's eager for the new challenge.
"It was a fluke thing to happen to him. You hate to see him go down like that. David's a great friend of mine. I love him to death. He was having a great fall camp. He deserved to be able to play this year. I talked to him last night and he's very upset about the situation, obviously. But for the program, he's got a redshirt year and he'll help us next year."
Now the Cougars are looking at junior Kellen Fowler possibly backing up Hodgkiss, along with true freshman Jordan Pendleton, the Deseret Morning News' 5A most valuable player for 2006.
"Kellen will probably play both kat (safety) and free (safety) with him being the most experienced," Hodgkiss said. "Jordan Pendleton will play kat. He's a bigger body and more athletic. He has the size to play right away. Right now, the sense of urgency in our DB room should be at its highest level because after me, everybody's got to prepare to play. As far as our depth, it hurts our depth. We're a little worried about that. We started out with a bunch of seniors in there — Dustin, David, Quinn (Gooch) and me. Now we're in a situation where there's me and freshmen."
Senior cornerback Ben Criddle is confident that the defense will remain strong despite the loss of Tafuna.
"It's unfortunate because David was playing so well," Criddle said. "At the same time, our defensive scheme allows us to replace him. Anyone who knows the scheme can do the job. They don't necessarily have to be a super athlete. They just have to know what their assignment is and they'll be fine. I'm not super concerned. It's rough and David was playing fantastic. But the next person has to step up. That's the bottom line."
Linebacker Bryan Kehl compares the injury situation to this year's BYU football poster and media guide cover that features four players wearing helmets, with countless more helmets behind them.
"It's tough because you can go down at any time. You have to play every play like it's your last because you never know what's going to happen," Kehl said. "That's the name of the game. We have to push forward. We have our poster this year with four helmets up front and an endless sea of helmets behind. Coach Mendenhall said it's not so much about the four helmets in front, it's about the endless sea behind. The way he envisions the program, is both through injury and through graduation, any one guy can go down and there's a wave, a sea, behind."
LISFRANC WOES: In the span of several months, BYU's football program has seen three players suffer a rare foot ailment, known as the Lisfranc injury. It is named for Jacques Lisfranc, a field surgeon in Napoleon's army. Lisfranc described an amputation performed through this joint because of gangrene that developed after an injury incurred when a soldier fell off a horse with his foot caught in the stirrup.
Quarterback Cade Cooper sustained the injury during the spring game last April before leaving the program. Early in fall camp, linebacker Jadon Wagner suffered a slight sprain of those foot ligaments. On Wednesday, Tafuna was diagnosed with the Lisfranc injury.
"It's kind of odd. It's a non-contact injury," said BYU trainer Kevin Morris. "I've been a trainer for 16 years, and these are the first three I've been associated with, other than (former Cougar) Chad Lewis (who suffered that same injury in the National Football League). It's a rare injury. We're looking into any common links. Hopefully we'll become an expert at preventing them and finding something to help reduce the risk. I probably slept three or four hours last night. You hate to see this happen to one kid, let alone two or three.."
Morris has e-mailed colleagues around the country searching for answers. Among the potential causes for a rash of this particular injury include field surface, shoe types, foot types, mechanics and training methods.
"We want to try to decrease the risk of that happening again," Morris said. "Is there a link, or is it bad luck?"
Tafuna was lined up to blitz during an 11-on-11 drill Wednesday when the injury occurred, Morris said. "He had his foot ready to plant and explode off of there. When the ball was snapped, his was ready to explode and it tore ligaments and then he just dropped to the ground."
Morris said Tafuna's recovery is expected to be nine to 12 months.
A DAY OFF: In each of his three years at the helm, Mendenhall has surprised his team by canceling practice during fall camp.
The Cougars went to the local water park, Seven Peaks, in 2005, and they ran the Provo River in rafts last year. "It's one of those things he does every fall camp," Kehl said. "You never know what day. Today, it's go watch a movie. It's hot out here, and we have a lot of guys banged up. That's (Mendenhall's) reasoning. We'll be ready to go tomorrow.
"I like to compete. I look forward to practice every day," he continued. "Your body's tired, so you can use some rest. But I've got a competitive nature. I dropped an interception yesterday and I want to make up for that today. I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow."
NO. 14 TO BE RETIRED: Former BYU quarterbacks Gifford Nielson and Ty Detmer will be honored during halftime of the season-opener against Arizona on Sept. 1 when the school retires the No. 14 jersey worn by both.
"Having your jersey retired at BYU is the highest honor given by the BYU Athletics Department," athletic director Tom Holmoe said. "It is reserved for the greatest student-athletes who distinguished themselves in athletic competition, in the classroom and in the community. Gifford and Ty were tremendous athletes who were instrumental in establishing the great tradition of BYU football. Equally important, they have been great ambassadors for the university and all it represents."