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BYU football: Sitake says this year's freshmen more prepared to play than past groups

PROVO — BYU's football signing class of 2018 was considered by recruiting services to be among the weakest in program history. But according to Cougar coach Kalani Sitake, this year's group of incoming freshmen has generally impressed and have developed further during fall camp than the past two groups he's overseen while in Provo.

“Our coaches really like the youth of this team and I think they help complement and give us more depth,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “They’re more ready to play than other freshmen we’ve had at this time.”

Of course what players ultimately do on the field of play determines how good a recruiting class is, although practice sessions give a far greater indicator than any stars allocated or other recruiting evaluation.

Sitake took time to point out several first-year standouts, but first mentioned a particular set of four freshmen competing at one position.

“I mean, you could name them all, but I just go with the four freshmen (cornerbacks)," Sitake said. "They’re going to be something. They’re just young guys, but they have so much potential. I’m really excited about that group.”

The four freshmen cornerbacks referred to by Sitake our first-year players Isaiah Herron, Malik Moore and Brach Davis along with redshirt freshman Keenan Ellis.

One player mentioned by name was Lehi product Dallin Holker, who has seen a lot of reps playing at tight end and has subsequently been mentioned by Sitake more than once during the fall practice sessions.

Lehi's Dallin Holker reels in an end zone pass to score on Springville in a 5A football semifinal game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.
Lehi's Dallin Holker reels in an end zone pass to score on Springville in a 5A football semifinal game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.

“You look at the young guys on the (offensive line) and I’m really pleased with Dallin Holker,” Sitake said. “I don’t want to make statements, but he’s going to be a really good player. He’s done that all fall camp.”

Other first-year players that have seen a lot of reps and praise from coaches are former Bingham receivers Brayden Cosper and Dax Milne, along with Gunner Romney, who has seen his reps limited thus far, relative to other freshmen.

“He has big-time potential, he’s just been a little slowed by injury,” Sitake said of the 4-star receiver who was generally considered BYU's top recruit signed in 2018.

One first-year player who has impressed, although not part of the 2018 signing class is quarterback Jaren Hall. The 6-foot-1 Maple Mountain product returned home from LDS Church mission service to Roseville, California with his progress well-noted by coaches to the point where he's legitimately competing for the third-string spot on the depth chart.

Quarterback Jaren Hall looks to throw during BYU scrimmage Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Quarterback Jaren Hall looks to throw during BYU scrimmage Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

"He came home in great shape. You rarely see a returned missionary that is in that good of physical condition right away," said BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. "He was ready to play, right when he got home. He's a smart guy with a fast release and he's accurate. He's fighting to be in the mix out here and he has a bright future."

As far as developing physically, Hall gives at least some of the credit to an understanding mission president.

"My mission president — he was a big BYU guy," Hall said with a big smile. "So he managed to keep me on some bikes my last couple of months."

PUNCHING PAU'U BROTHERS: Senior linebacker Butch Pau'u doesn't mix it up much with his younger brother, sophomore receiver Neil Pau'u much on the practice field, but did recall one particular moment where he laid little brother out when running a pattern across the middle.

BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u, left, tries to tackle Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald during the first half at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u, left, tries to tackle Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald during the first half at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

"I was kicked out of practice for it," Butch said. "There was (some extra motivation), but he punched me back, so we're all even now."

RETURNERS TO BE DECIDED: No one has been chosen to handle kick- and punt-return duties, although Sitake mentioned that there were several in the mix, including receiver Dylan Collie and Aleva Hifo, along with defensive backs Dayan Ghanwoloku and Michael Shelton.

BYU wide receiver Aleva Hifo catches a 27-yard touchdown pass during the third quarter against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
BYU wide receiver Aleva Hifo catches a 27-yard touchdown pass during the third quarter against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

“It’s just a matter of who is going to be the punt returner and who is going to be the kick returner,” Sitake said. “So we’ll get that ironed out here in a little bit. We’ll probably rotate some guys there and give them a look. I think we’re going to have more than just one guy to do it.”