PROVO — BYU coach Kalani Sitake knows what it’s like to be a returned missionary playing football for the Cougars.
Years ago, Sitake went through it when he was at BYU.
In his first season at the helm of the program, Sitake, who played under legendary coach LaVell Edwards, is grateful for the experience and leadership of many of his players during the transition period this spring.
“They’re a mature group. Overall, I’ve been really pleased with the way they work together and what we’re asking them to do,” Sitake said. “Our coaches are pretty demanding and I think being able to teach a lot of the fundamentals and techniques have been going really well for us as a group … We’re dealing with a bunch of guys who are used to coaching, and they are a lot more mature and disciplined. A lot of these guys served in the jungle for two years, so practicing from me isn’t going to be too hard.”
Sitake is taking over a program that has high expectations. The Cougars are coming off a nine-win season in 2015, with many key, experienced players returning.
“It’s a lot easier to deal with. Guys are used to having success here and played a lot of significant reps,” Sitake said. “There are already proven leaders compared to (other) places. I went to Oregon State (as defensive coordinator) and we had to start from scratch and had to train leaders who had a lot of inexperience on the field.
"Here, we have a lot of guys who have played a bunch of reps and can help the younger guys along the way," he continued. "I’m not really worried about trying to get the leadership going. To be honest with you, a lot of guys are natural leaders on this team. That’s always exciting for me as a coach to not have to worry about that aspect of the team. It’s worked out so far. We’ve just got to keep building on their talents and their strengths. Right now, the leadership’s wonderful.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the LDS Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles addressed the team recently and counseled the older players to provide strong leadership to assist the new coaching staff.
“He was telling us, with the transition process and what would help the most — it was having the senior leadership step up to fill the void, and that has helped a ton,” linebacker Va'a Niumatalolo said. “People like (linebacker) Sae Tautu, (running back) Algie Brown, all of the other leaders on the team, they stepped up and helped bring us together as a group so that no one jumped ship.”
More than two weeks into spring drills, Sitake is “really pleased with the progress so far … It’s a little difficult to look at all of the situations, especially when we’re trying to establish our identity right away. But I think we’ll get into that the next couple of weeks, being able to establish who the guys are going to be that we’ll be able to count on in the two-deep.”