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BYU running back Squally Canada eager to rebound from dubious debut vs. Utes

Running back Squally Canada attends a scrimmage at BYU in Provo on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015.
Running back Squally Canada attends a scrimmage at BYU in Provo on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PROVO — Running back Squally Canada’s BYU debut didn't go the way he had hoped, but that dubious experience serves as a motivating factor going into next season.

After transferring from Washington State, Canada redshirted last year and was a key contributor on the Cougar scout team. Because of the timing of his transfer, he became eligible in mid-December for the Las Vegas Bowl against archrival Utah.

BYU trailed 28-0 in the first quarter when quarterback Tanner Mangum handed Canada the ball for his first career carry at BYU. Canada gained one yard, bumped into an offensive lineman and fumbled the ball — the Cougars' fifth consecutive turnover. The Utes capitalized on Canada's fumble by scoring another touchdown to go up 35-0. That was Canada's only rushing attempt of the game and BYU ultimately fell 35-28.

“Man, I just remember jogging onto the field thinking, ‘Here’s your big chance to make a big play and change the game.’ As I got the ball, it just pops out,” Canada recalled during the first week of BYU's spring practices. “I thought, ‘You can’t be serious. First carry, fumble, 28-0 on national television. Family’s watching, everybody’s watching.' After that, I didn’t get back in the game. After that fumble, my whole mindset was on next year … I went back home and my pops, I really worked out with him and he got me mentality right. He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. It was just one play. One play ain’t going to define you.’ It’s about getting it next year.”

Next year is still months away and the 5-foot-11, 198-pound sophomore from Milpitas, California, is trying to get past that fumble.

“It definitely still haunts me,” Canada said. “When I first got back to Utah, my teachers were asking my name. ‘You’re that guy.’ It was multiple people bringing it up. It’s been eating at me still because the last taste I have in my mouth is that fumble. You can say it is motivation. It has me hungry for next year. Hopefully, my first carry next year goes at least for some positive yards. That’s all I want. Positive yards and maybe even a touchdown, hopefully.”

Canada, who missed spring practices last year due to knee surgery, is grateful for the support of his teammates.

“Everybody picked me up. Some teasing here and there but it’s all out of love,” he said. “They all tell me what I’m capable of doing. The team has my back and I have their back as well. I appreciate everything those guys have done for me and they didn’t let me hang my head.”

When Canada became eligible last December, it put him in an odd situation. While he was excited for his first collegiate game, he wondered if he should wait until next year because he didn't know the offense very well after spending all of his time with the scout team.

“To transfer over in a short span of time was difficult," he said. "I got in and things didn’t go too well. But just to be able to run on that field, it was a great atmosphere, a great opportunity. I’m glad we get to play the Utes again.”

Canada didn't play as a freshman at Washington State because of his knee injury and after the season he opted to transfer. He was introduced to BYU by his friend Khari Vanderbilt, a safety that the Cougars had been recruiting (Vanderbilt ended up at California).

One of the difficult things about enrolling at BYU was having to cut his signature dreadlocks.

“It was tough. I had dreads and I had to cut my dreads. The honor code was a huge thing for me,” Canada said. “I prayed about it and talked to my mom and dad. My dad said it would be a great school for me. My hair can always grow back.”

Since he arrived on campus, he’s acclimated to the culture and he's learned a lot about the LDS Church.

“It’s been great. Everybody is super nice and super friendly. It’s a great school, a beautiful place,” Canada said. “I left my headphones and wallet in class and I came back two hours later and it was still there. It’s a really nice, safe environment. I really like how my teammates accept me for who I am, even though I’m not part of their faith.”

As for the origin of Squally — his first name?

"My dad, when I was a kid, sat me down. There were trees outside of our yard," he explained. "I would just watch the trees. He was like, ‘You look like a little squally, like the trees out front, squally trees.’ That’s how it came about.”

When Canada signed with BYU on December of 2014, it appeared that he would be Jamaal Williams’ replacement in the backfield after Williams' graduation. But Williams withdrew from school prior to fall camp last August and did not play last season.

Williams is back for his senior year and now he and Canada are playing together. They have forged a strong friendship since Williams returned to Provo. Their lockers are next to each other and they live in the same apartment complex.

“Jamaal took me under his wing. He called me to make sure I know the formations,” Canada said. “We go over the plays with each other. We’re out there on the field. We coach each other up. We’re pretty tight, I would say.”

When he was a senior at Milpitas High, Canada ran for 1,916 yards and 24 touchdowns. He averaged 8.8 yards per carry.

Canada is excited about what he can accomplish in offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s new scheme.

“My role is to get in there and compete with Jamaal. He’s the No. 1 back and my goal is to make sure I compete with him so he can compete against me,” he said. “The only way we’re going to push each other is if we compete. If we push each other, we can both get better. When he goes out to take a breather, I’m coming in to make big plays. In this offense, the running back has a lot to do in this offense.”

And when Squally Canada takes his first handoff next season, he’ll be looking for some redemption.