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BYU football notebook: Tejan Koroma is back, but has work to do to earn back his spot

PROVO — It's hard to assess players you haven't had the opportunity to coach and work with. That was the message conveyed by BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey with regards to the return of two-year starting center Tejan Koroma.

Koroma, who worked as the centerpiece of Robert Anae's go-fast-go-hard offense since arriving at BYU for the 2014 season, left the program at the conclusion of 2015. He missed spring practices and only recently gave indication that he's rejoining the program, despite no official announcement being made as of yet.

“Everything I’ve been told is that it’s the intention of all parties involved that he’ll be with us,” Empey told the media during Thursday's BYU Media Day.

When Koroma returns, he'll have to work his way back up to start at the position he's held over the last two seasons. Spring practices saw Empey implement a new blocking system with Parker Dawe rising up to be the top option at center entering fall practices.

“He’s a good player and I expect him to battle, but right now — he wasn’t here in the spring and we put in a lot of new things and worked on a lot of things,” Empey said of Koroma. “To catch up he’s going to be battling and then we’ll see how that plays out. I’d be crazy to say that we don’t want somebody with his background in the lineup — I don’t want to imply that, but at the same time it’s my job to find the best lineup.”

Empey has interacted with Koroma since being brought on as a coach prior to spring practices, and said those interactions have been generally positive.

“We’ve just talked about what the expectations are and talked about the things he needs to do to catch up — how he’s doing in the weight room and what he’s doing as far as checking all the boxes to move forward with BYU,” Empey said.

As for Koroma's teammates, they're excited to have him back.

“I missed him. He’s my buddy,” said senior offensive lineman Brad Wilcox. “Even though he wasn’t a senior last year, he was the one who led us. If he was low-energy, then we were sort of low-energy.”

Injury odds and ends

— Empey said there's a chance senior Kyle Johnson could play this coming season. “Kyle is on our football team, but he’s not cleared to play physically right now. He’s had some injuries, so until he’s physically able to go, he’s not on the two-deep.”

— Senior safety Kai Nacua is expected back in time for fall practices, according to defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. Nacua had surgeries on both shoulders during the offseason.

— Tight end Josh Weeks, who was dismissed from spring practices, isn't on the team and isn't expected to return.

— Tight end Bryan Sampson's football career is likely over after having surgery in the offseason, according to position coach Steve Clark.

— Offensive lineman Kieffer Longson is home from his LDS mission service after being hit by a car. His playing status remains uncertain, however, as he's still rehabbing his knee from the injury. Longson is a four-star prospect who signed with the program in 2015.

Not in the afternoons anymore

Those hoping for more games starting at noon may have a tough time getting up the next day by noon after watching several late games this coming season.

Athletic director Tom Holmoe announced that the Cougars' first three home games of 2016 will all kick off at 8:15 p.m. MDT. Those games will pit the Cougars against UCLA, Toledo and Mississippi State. The Cougars will also kick off at 8:30 against Arizona to open the season and at 8:15 in a visit to Boise State on Oct. 20.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney