SHREVEPORT, La. — In BYU’s last two bowl games, which are fairly similar to the Independence Bowl the Cougars will play in Saturday, in terms of opponent and prestige, at least one starter decided to opt out of playing because he wanted to be fully healthy for all-star games and predraft workouts.

Independence Bowl

BYU (10-2)

vs. Alabama-Birmingham (8-4)

Dec. 18, 1:30 p.m. MST

Independence Stadium

Shreveport, Louisiana


Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM

Safety Austin Lee skipped the 2019 Hawaii Bowl, a last-second loss to homestanding Hawaii, and cornerback Chris Wilcox sat out of the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl, an easy win over Central Florida.

The good news for Cougar fans this year is that no BYU players are opting out of the showdown with UAB (8-4) at Independence Stadium (1:30 p.m. MST, ABC) and several who missed the 35-31 win over USC on Nov. 27 due to injury are available to play, assistant head coach Ed Lamb said Thursday before the Cougars (10-2) got in a full practice for the final time this season.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen anyone opt out,” Lamb said. “I know that became more popular for NFL hopefuls, but I don’t think we have a senior-laden team that way. Most of the guys will be back next year. I think that will help in terms of (fewer) opt-outs.”

“I don’t know if there was just one factor for me, personally. There are different reasons. It just felt like the best thing for me at this point.” — BYU running back Lopini Katoa on why he’s returning to the team next year.

Lamb said safety Chaz Ah You, who hasn’t played since the Oct. 23 win over Washington State, is available to return to action on defense.

“He is in the meetings. He is taking all the practice reps he can,” Lamb said.

Opting out is still a thing; Thursday, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III announced he won’t play in the Peach Bowl and will declare for the NFL draft.

That no BYU players are opting out “just shows how much we love and care for each other and that’s the kind of the brotherhood we have built here,” said All-America offensive lineman Clark Barrington, who noted earlier in the week that he’s coming back. “We are going to stick everything out together and do what we can together.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said that receiver Gunner Romney (who missed the USC game) and offensive linemen Harris LaChance and Campbell Barrington are available to play. He said the offense won’t have receiver Neil Pau’u or center James Empey.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and members of his staff look on during practice Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Cougars face UAB in the Independence Bowl, Saturday afternoon. | BYU Photo

All indications are that star running back Tyler Allgeier will play, after he left the USC game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and Jackson McChesney scored the winning touchdown against the Trojans.

Allgeier hasn’t said yet whether he will return to BYU next season or declare for the NFL draft. However, one of his fellow running backs, Lopini Katoa, said Thursday before the Cougars practiced at Flyer Field in Shreveport that he is coming back. Is that because Katoa suspects Allgeier is moving on?

“I don’t know if there was just one factor for me, personally,” Katoa said. “There are different reasons. It just felt like the best thing for me at this point.”

Although Empey and Pau’u — multiple-year starters — are impossible to replace, Roderick said it is “probably true” that the Cougars are as healthy as they’ve been on offense for quite some time.

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“Gunner has done a great job of getting back (after injuries) all year,” Roderick said. “If he is out, it doesn’t matter. He always comes back and does a great job.”

Zach Wilson of the New York Jets was the MVP of the Boca Raton Bowl 12 months ago for BYU. Are similar accolades in store for Allgeier and/or BYU quarterback Jaren Hall? Hall is one of 37 married players on BYU’s team, an interesting little tidbit well-known to BYU fans that has caught the attention of the Shreveport media.

“Jaren has really been steady all year,” Roderick said. “He has been a great decision-maker all year. He is mature beyond his experience level. He plays like a guy who is a fourth-year starter and not a first-year starter. He just continues to improve and keeps working at being a better quarterback.”

Media members have not been allowed to watch practices in Shreveport. However, Lamb said that Wednesday’s practice was a bit lackluster after Tuesday was entirely dedicated to traveling and nonfootball-related activities. He wanted to see more energy and enthusiasm on Thursday.

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“I am a little concerned right now,” he said Thursday morning before the practice started. “Today is a really big day. I think they need to prove they are here to do their best to handle a really, really good UAB football team. I would like to see more than I saw yesterday.”

Lamb said that Sitake spoke to the team about that after Wednesday’s practice.

“I think the intensity needed, the energy, the excitement to play another game together — I think there is still room for improvement there,” Lamb said.

Clark Barrington said the final practice would be dedicated to showing more energy and intensity, and “just cleaning up the details like we have been focused on the whole season, just doing the small things right.”

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