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Banged up Cougars keep trainer hopping

It is the job of Kevin Morris to fix BYU football players, tend to their recovery, medical needs, treatment and rehabilitation after surgery.

Needless to say, the head football trainer at BYU has been busy this fall.

Within days of when camp opened up, starting cornerbacks Brandon Bradley and Robbie Buckner suffered muscle strains. Ditto for starting linebacker Terrance Hooks. This trio has basically missed most of fall camp.

Last week, strong safety Andrew Rich pulled a hamstring muscle. In the past nine days, offensive linemen Jason Speredon (shoulder), Matt Reynolds (hand) and Houston Reynolds (knee) have undergone delicate surgeries. Before Monday's practice finished, free safety Scott Johnson suffered a concussion and star running back Harvey Unga joined the casualty list with a strained hamstring.

Ding, ding, ding.

Introducing a pattern here.

"Good thing there's still two weeks to play," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday.

"Unfortunately, we still have to practice and we can't just come out and look at each other for the next two weeks. We actually have to get some work done and, unfortunately, guys are going down with a pretty limited format. I don't think it can be scaled back much more than what it is. We just have to hope they get back quickly."

The frustrating thing is Houston Reynolds' ACL tear was a freak thing. The film shows he wasn't hit, rolled into or even encountered contact. All braced up on his knees, he simply planted, twisted and is out of the season. His older brother, Matt, simply spread his fingers to take on linebacker Colby Clawson, and the impact broke his hand.

Bad luck? Or is BYU doing something wrong in conditioning workouts, methods or practices? The hamstring issue is especially puzzling. By all reports, Cougar players had an outstanding off-season session. Always cautious with returning missionaries like Houston Reynolds, the veterans successfully hit the weights and ran hard.

"We'll have to research and see if there is a bigger number (hamstring pulls) this year over a year ago and the year before that," said Morris. "Until we do that, people can speculate why this occurs, but you need facts to really know."

Morris, a 17-year veteran, received national praise from his peers for getting Aaron Francisco back on the field after a serious knee injury several years ago. He sees the players work hard all summer and then have these injuries.

"It's frustrating to see them frustrated," he said.

Not uncommon during two-a-days, the hamstring is one of the most powerful muscles and is vulnerable to strains and pulls. That somebody like Unga could pull a hamstring two weeks into practice, after the toughest impact period on the body has already transpired, is puzzling.

"All kinds of things could be possible," said Morris. "There could be a muscle imbalance (quads versus hamstrings), hydration or lack thereof could come into play. Taking supplements like Creatine can lead to hamstring strain. We'll have to take a look at it and identify a possible cause.

"Sometimes it is just acceleration in a high-intensity situation."

Morris cleared Hooks, Buckner and Bradley to do position drills Monday.

Unga, who has been protected by coaches much of the fall, limiting his contact, did not scrimmage last Saturday.

"Harvey is a tough guy. He has a high tolerance for pain, so when he says something is going on, I believe him," said Morris.

Some have criticized BYU practices, calling them too light, void of enough big-time hitting. Morris disagrees.

"We take precautions on taking people down to protect knees and ankles," he said, "but I talk to trainers around the country and there aren't very many college football teams who have as intense a practice as we do here.

"We go full speed and the effort and intensity displayed on the field is second to none. The contact we have, the hitting in practice, is every bit like game intensity. I see the bruises, the contusions and injuries every day, the things that happen in practice, and I know the contact is way high.

"As far as hitting, I'd put us up against anybody as far as practices go," said Morris.

Mendenhall said no matter what you do as a head coach, injuries can be faulted.

"Too much hitting or not enough hitting? If they're going to happen, they're going to happen," the Cougars' head coach said. "Our numbers over the past four years have been well-documented. We've been very fresh and healthy the last three years, not so much my first year. Not much else I can do, especially if I think the volume is on and I think it's on."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com