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Dick Harmon: Kalani Sitake welcomes a humbled but hungry BYU team to fall camp

BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake yells to his players during the Cougar's first football practice at BYU in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018.
BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake yells to his players during the Cougar's first football practice at BYU in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018.
James Wooldridge

PROVO — Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi is ready for BYU football to begin anew.

He wants to take the 2017 season, put it in a box, tape it a hundred different ways and put it on a shelf. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t learn from the pain of just four wins.

“I think there’s a lot of energy out there,” said Kaufusi. “We have a lot of guys with something to prove so it was good to get after it today,” said the former dual-sport athlete after the first day of BYU football camp.

When asked to give four words to describe last year and four that would describe this fall, Kaufusi hesitated.

“To be honest, I can’t even think of words to describe last season, all I can think of is what we want now. I think of culture, desire, tenacity and urgency.”

“I’m glad we have more days to work on, but this is a good start,” said head coach Kalani Sitake.

There was plenty of good and some bad Thursday in the first day of camp. Receivers Dylan Collie and Talon Shumway joined Micah Simon making big plays. Michael Shelton was solid at cornerback, disrupting plays while all the quarterbacks had their moments.

But what you saw is a team making a rebound. You could sense the urgency.

You win four games and you buy a label that sticks on your résumé for all time.

You endure a seven-game losing streak and there are scars and ghosts that must be overcome and buried, mistakes put on the altar of rectification.

You are part of a program that ended a season witnessing your iconic Heisman Trophy winner, a face on your athletic department’s Mount Rushmore, relieved of duties as offensive coordinator, you have to live that you had a hand in it one way or another. And that’s sad.

You lose to UMass at home before a dwindling crowd, your winter, spring, and summer are spent cleansing the taste from your throat.

If the 2017 season did one thing to the returning players this fall, it should power up a mindset that it will never happen again during their watch. Every guy should have vowed last Christmas when the year ended with no bowl game that every missed opportunity to play at a high level a year ago is not missed this go-around. Not one set of sprints, lift session or film review.

Last year should haunt these BYU players to their core. If it doesn’t, they should return their helmets and take up tunnel singing.

One prime objective head coach Kalani Sitake has had with new hires and a change of direction is to demand every practice be filled with increased energy, ignited passion and radioactive effort.

I’ve seen this happen before in Provo. Not from these depths of a four-win season. But 1995’s 7-4 turned to 14-1 in 1996; 2000’s 6-6 converted to 12-1 in 2001; in 2005 a 6-6 finish led to 11-2 in 2006.

Failure is a great motivator and teacher. Losing means something. From the bottom, you strive to get to the top. And these are smart guys who really do care.

“I loved the effort of the boys today,” said assistant coach Ed Lamb. “They are hungry for the opportunity. It was a new team in the spring and that was a new step but things were far off. Now we’ve got things down to 30 days and soon it will be in the 20s and then Game 1.

“I think everyone can feel the excitement but they know we have a long ways to go. There’s just a lot of humility. I think there is strength in humility, I see a lot of effort and guys are hungry for a chance to prove themselves.”

Now, it's on to Day 2.