PROVO — The big No. 52 who was out running drills with the BYU defensive line was a welcome sight Saturday as the Cougars' first official fall football practice got underway.
Cougar defensive lineman Russell Tialavea was on the field, after deciding to depart on an LDS mission to Santiago, Chile, following the 2009 season, rather than during it.
"I'm going to stay and play the season and help the team out," Tialavea said. "The team's looking really good, so it's going to be really fun."
When he first submitted the paperwork necessary to go on a mission, Tialavea, the Cougars' starting nose guard in 2008, wasn't planning on being around to play this year.
Instead, he planned to continue playing after returning.
When the process of submitting his paperwork took longer than expected, and after receiving his assignment to Chile, Tialavea decided to push his departure back by a few weeks and leave on Dec. 30.
"It's a huge plus," BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said. "And at the same time I'm so proud of him because he's prepared himself to go serve on a mission. For him to leave in December, that's great. Now I've got all my starters back with young guys coming behind them."
Kaufusi called Tialavea one of the most consistent players on the defensive line in terms of technique. He said having Tialavea on the roster this season will help some of the younger players who play behind him.
"He's in game shape, no doubt," Kaufusi said. "He's lost a little bit of weight, so that's good. Now he can work building his body back up — more muscle mass and things like that, getting leaner."
NO COMMENT: Incoming freshmen, transfers and other newcomers weren't talking to media at Saturday's practice, thanks to a new team policy in place for this season. BYU Athletic Communications officials said the policy helps players adjust to playing at BYU prior to participating in interviews. After the first game of the 2009 season, all players will be available to the media.
AGGIE BLUE TO COUGAR BLUE: A Utah State Aggie when he left on his LDS mission, transfer quarterback RileyNelson returned a BYUCougar and participated in his first official practice with his new team Saturday. Calling him a player who plays with a lot of grit, BYU quarterbacks coach BrandonDoman said he's excited to have Nelson on the team. Due to the new policy, Nelson wasn't available for comment.
LOOKING SLIM: Thanks to a June bout with the swine flu, BYU running back Harvey Unga is playing a little lighter to start the season. Unga said he thought he only had the regular flu at the time, but had trouble getting better. Diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, Unga lost 20 pounds before getting better. After getting back into his workout and weight-lifting routine, Unga said he put 10 pounds back on his frame and estimated his playing weight at about 235 pounds.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Recently returned from a mission to Japan, Cougar wide receiver McKay Jacobson was flying around the field Saturday. After missing out on spring practice due to a hamstring injury, Jacobson said it felt good to be on the field again.
LAST LINE OF DEFENSE: BYU's defensive secondary has a number of new faces due to some recent transfers. CorbyEason,LeeAguirre and BrianLogan -- all recently transferred from other schools — took part in Saturday's practice. Jacobson said the incoming transfers played great, pressing the receiving corps during drills.