PROVO — The silver-lining in what has been a frustrating season for BYU football thus far is perhaps the most dominant defense Coach Bronco Mendenhall has fielded since arriving in Provo in 2003.
It's a defense full of play-makers, such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree, along with aggressive defensive backs like Joe Sampson and Daniel Sorensen. Such players are the headliners, but certainly not the entirety of what makes the Cougar defense hum.
Lesser-known role players have played a big role in BYU's early season defensive dominance. Players that fill in during certain package situations or who aren't included much in the variety of blitzes Mendenhall throws at an opposing offense.
Senior defensive back Mike Hague epitomizes this group of lesser known contributors. Hague has provided just six tackles and a single pass breakup through four games, but as is often the case, the stats don't tell the whole story.
"Mike Hague is a solid contributor and someone who has my trust," said Mendenhall. "He's worked hard to learn the defense and he's playing a valuable role for us."
Hague's primary role this season is as the team's primary nickel back.
Mendenhall has trended toward extensive use of a nickel package, which involves five defensive backs, in part due to increased depth and talent at the position.
It's a role the Brighton High product didn't anticipate when he signed with BYU, but it's a role he's now fully embraced.
Hague entered the program as a running back prospect and gave fans an early glimpse of his prowess as a backfield option during his freshman year.
Many fans will remember Hague back in 2006 popping out of a pile of defenders to scamper 87 yards for a touchdown against UNLV.
"That was probably the highlight of my life," recalled Hague. "It's a moment I'll never forget. Sure it was during garbage time of that game, but hearing the fans cheer and taking it all the way for the score — I'll never forget that."
Hague's touchdown scoring days are over, but he's finding great satisfaction in the role he tackled prior to the 2011 season. Following his mission service to Knoxville, Tenn., Hague bulked up and backed up the fullback position in 2010 before choosing to bulk back down toward the end of that year.
"I wasn't in the best place physically after my mission and I wasn't where I needed to be physically," said Hague. "I got hurt and I just put on a lot of weight that I wasn't used to. I was getting reps behind Zed Mendenhall at fullback, but I wasn't comfortable. I wasn't comfortable carrying that much weight so I just decided to get back to where I felt comfortable."
Hague started dropping weight late in the 2010 season and dropped a full 50 pounds to report at a slim 190 pounds for spring practices in 2011.
"I had dropped a lot of weight prior to our bowl game against UTEP in 2010, and it certainly didn't feel right to lead block and do all the other things a fullback is supposed to do at that weight," said Hague. "I talked to Coach Mendenhall after the season and he encouraged me to switch to defense, I did it and I couldn't be more happy with the role I have now."
Hague's contribution isn't just as the team's primary nickel back, but as someone who can backup three of the four defensive backfield positions and as a heavy contributor on special teams.
"I love the role that I have on this team. I love my teammates and I just love playing for Coach Mendenhall," said Hague. "It's where I'm supposed to be and it's where I can help the team the most. Coach Mendenhall is such a great coach to play for and I think we have a chance to be a very good defense this season."