‘Unbreakable’: How Chaz Ah You recovered from mental health issues and injuries to emerge as a leader
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb is back coaching the BYU safeties and says the group has a lot of potential, but not much game experience outside of junior standout Ah You
Of all the news coming out of BYU’s football media day on June 17, perhaps the best — as far as on-field performance is concerned — was that Cougars defensive standout Chaz Ah You pronounced himself fully healthy, mentally and physically, and ready to shine in 2021.
That’s huge, because Ah You now plays safety, after having played linebacker earlier in his career, and the Cougars are awfully inexperienced at the position after losing 2020 stalwarts Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson. Those guys are now trying to make NFL rosters.
Ah You had surgery last September for what BYU termed a “preexisting injury” and missed most of the Cougars’ spectacular 11-1 season, a season in which the versatile defender was expected to be a star after having shoulder surgery in March 2020.
“Yeah, as far as my surgeries and everything I have gone through, my body is healthy,” Ah You said. “I have recovered really well. I feel like I have got back to where I was before. … Things are going really well.”
“I think I am in the best mental shape I have been in in a long time, and it is just because I found what worked for me, and I ran with it. I didn’t just slow play. I took it and I wanted to get the most out of it. I don’t want to have any kinks in my armor. So mental health for me was a big weakness. So I worked on that and my mind is unbreakable at this point, in my opinion.” — BYU safety Chaz Ah You
Ah You is also doing much better mentally, after publicly acknowledging last year that he was dealing with suicidal thoughts, depression and other mental health issues. The former four-star recruit from Provo’s Timpview High said he is in a good place now, after getting help from several mental health professionals.
He was also cleared last spring of charges stemming from a February 2020 arrest for alleged suspicion of DUI when the Utah County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, citing a lack of admissible evidence.
“I think I am in the best mental shape I have been in in a long time, and it is just because I found what worked for me, and I ran with it,” he said. “I didn’t just slow play. I took it and I wanted to get the most out of it. I don’t want to have any kinks in my armor. So mental health for me was a big weakness. So I worked on that and my mind is unbreakable at this point, in my opinion.”
Ah You said the “biggest thing” for him to overcome his destructive thoughts was to talk it out with people who cared about him and his well-being.
“As athletes, we talk about football, we talk about everything else. But when it comes to mental health, we don’t want to talk,” he said. “I could have avoided so many little things if I just could have told someone that I trust and am close with, how I am feeling that one day. And that one day could have been avoided. So that is my biggest thing, is just talk. As simple as it is, as it sounds, it is very hard when you gotta talk.”
Ah You said changes in BYU’s strength and conditioning program and the way it conducts workouts have helped him get bigger, stronger and faster. He said he has hit a couple of personal records in the weight room since spring camp ended.
“A lot of old school college weight training is all run until you die, lift until you can’t lift anymore,” he said. “And our (staff) has changed that completely. The movements are all performance-based.”
Ah You, 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, and listed as the starting strong safety on BYU’s post-spring depth chart, has two years of eligibility remaining, but isn’t counting out leaving for the NFL after this season if things go well.
“My whole life goal has been to get to the NFL,” said Ah You, 22. “Division I football wasn’t the end goal for me. But I will take it as it comes. If things line up and everything is right, I am going to go. If not, I will be back.”
As for the other safeties, there are a lot of question marks.
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki acknowledged that this might be “the most talented cornerbacks group that we have had since I’ve been here,” but said the safeties group outside of Ah You is the opposite.
The safeties also have a new coach. When head coach Kalani Sitake hired Kevin Clune to be the linebackers coach, he moved Ed Lamb back to safeties, the position Lamb first coached when he arrived with Sitake in 2016. Former safeties coach Preston Hadley is now coaching the defensive ends.
“I am excited about the challenge and enjoy the guys there,” Lamb said. “I already have relationships with the players there.”
Lamb said Ah You has the most game experience of all the safeties, even if he played flash linebacker a few years ago.
“We can count on him,” Lamb said.
Junior Malik Moore, from San Diego, also has some game experience and has appeared in 30 games and made two interceptions.
Redshirt sophomore Hayden Livingston, junior Matt Criddle, freshmen Dean Jones and Ammon Hannemann and recently returned missionary Talan Alfrey are pushing to be in the two deep.
“Talan Alfrey was a surprise in the spring,” Lamb said. “Not that we didn’t expect big things in his career, but him being ready to go so quickly off his mission was good to see.”
Another San Diego product, Javelle Brown, has played several positions at BYU but seems to be settling in as a defensive back.
“Javelle Brown has been around the program for a while, but he just hasn’t played a role on game day,” Lamb said. “I think he may have an opportunity to break through and make some travel squads and give us some depth at either the nickel or corner or safety positions. So we feel really good about him as well.”