As Zach Wilson-led BYU celebrated its first-ever win over the Broncos on the blue turf at Boise State on Nov. 6, 2020, third-string Cougars quarterback Jacob Conover sought out the third-string BSU quarterback who was forced into action due to injuries and played surprisingly well against a very good BYU defense in the second half.

Conover and then-Broncos backup QB Cade Fennegan had become friends years earlier, when they attended BYU football camps together — Conover making the annual summer trips from Chandler, Arizona, and Fennegan from the Dallas area. They also crossed paths in high school during the recruiting process.

“It was really cool seeing Jake there after the game and meeting up,” said Fennegan, who threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-17 loss to BYU that night in relief of starter Hank Bachmeier, who didn’t play due to COVID-19, and Jack Sears, who sustained a concussion in the first quarter.

“It was one of those feelings like, ‘Hey, we are both here. We are fulfilling our dreams.’ It was so cool,” he said.

Little did either know then that a few years later they would both be wearing BYU uniforms and competing against each other for the backup quarterback role in Provo.

“I wouldn’t say any of those guys are game-ready yet, but I think there is enough ability there. There is enough potential there that one of those guys will emerge as the clear-cut No. 2. We have enough time. I am not in a rush. But we are going to give them all reps.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on the battle to be Jaren Hall’s backup

Fennegan entered the transfer portal in the spring of 2021 and transferred to BYU last July. He served as the scout team quarterback last fall, while Conover was the third-stringer behind starter Jaren Hall and since-departed backup Baylor Romney.

Now the good friends, along with redshirt sophomore Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, are battling in spring camp for the QB2 spot behind Hall, the unquestioned starter and leader of the Cougars’ weapon-filled offense in 2022.

“To have Cade here has been awesome,” Conover said last week. “You are going to have competition and adversity no matter where you go. And everyone here is here for a reason. When I saw Cade had the opportunity to come here, I was good with it. I welcome the competition.”

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Maiava-Peters also said the more the merrier in the quarterbacks room, knowing how in two of the past three years the Cougars have had to use three or four quarterbacks, due to injury.

“My mindset is to just get better every day, and let the chips fall where they may,” Maiava-Peters said.

Redshirt freshman and Utah transfer Nick Billoups is the fifth quarterback on the roster, but he is probably a year or two away from seeing playing time.

How is the backup QB battle shaping up?

Last week, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said there “is still a good battle going on there,” but acknowledged that Conover has received the most reps with the second team in 11-on-11 sessions, “and a few with the first team.”

In the portions of practices available to the media, Hall, Conover and Maiava-Peters have taken all the reps and Fennegan and Billoups have signaled in plays from the sidelines. But Roderick said Fennegan is “getting as many reps as anybody else” earlier in the practices.

Fennegan told the Deseret News that is accurate.

“I am feeling good out there,” he said last Thursday.

Roderick said Romney’s decision to forgo his remaining eligibility and join the working world leaves a “big hole” in the offense, but is confident whoever earns the backup job will be capable of leading the Cougars to wins, if called upon.

“Baylor is a good player,” Roderick said. “He was always ready to play. We miss him. I miss him a lot.”

Clearly, Hall is ready to play if games started tomorrow, Roderick said. The others, not so much.

“I wouldn’t say any of those guys are game-ready yet, but I think there is enough ability there,” Roderick said. “There is enough potential there that one of those guys will emerge as the clear-cut No. 2. We have enough time. I am not in a rush. But we are going to give them all reps.”

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Obviously, concerns arise in all positions that guys who aren’t named starters will hit the transfer portal, but that’s especially true of quarterbacks, Roderick acknowledged, because only one can play at a time.

“We have had good luck retaining our quarterbacks here,” Roderick said. “We’ve been fortunate. When Zach was playing, it would have been really easy for Jaren or Baylor to leave, but they stuck it out. But I think it is the world we are in now that guys want to play and they might leave if they aren’t getting their opportunity.”

Roderick said some players are starting to realize that “the portal is really crowded” and there might not be as many suitors for their services as they think.

“There aren’t that many places you can go to and just be the man,” Roderick said. “Sometimes it is better to stick it out and keep grinding, keep working.”

How Sitake sees it

Head coach Kalani Sitake said no starting position spot is permanent, even at quarterback, but has admitted that Hall is way above the others when it comes to game readiness.

“Jaren is doing really, really well,” he said. “As a position group, the quarterbacks have looked good, but it helps when you have a bunch of receivers that can catch the ball like our guys.”

Sitake said Monday that it is a three-man race to be QB2, and folks shouldn’t forget about Maiava-Peters just because Fennegan and Conover have seen game action and he hasn’t.

“It is actually harder now to figure out because Sol-Jay is stepping up and playing really well,” Sitake said. “Jacob is doing well, and then Cade is doing some good things. I don’t know if anyone is going to catch (Hall) but they are going to try.”

Sitake said Roderick should be credited for having three to four quarterbacks in the room prepared to play well. Indeed, Romney and Hall played well in 2019 when Wilson broke his thumb against Toledo, and Romney and Conover were solid last year when Hall sustained rib, chest, hip and foot injuries that kept him out of games.

BYU quarterbacks Cade Fennegan, Nick Billoups, Jacob Conover, Jaren Hall and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters joke around at camp.
BYU quarterbacks Cade Fennegan (11), Nick Billoups (15), Jacob Conover (17), Jaren Hall (3) and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters (10) joke around at the end of football practice in the Indoor Practice Facility at BYU in Provo on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Maiava-Peters “is getting more comfortable with the offense,” Sitake said. “I think that is also a huge compliment to the way A-Rod coaches his guys. They show up every day with a different attitude than you see from most backup quarterbacks. Most fourth-string quarterbacks don’t have that kind of presence and command of the offense, and they do. That’s because A-Rod prepares them that way.”

Sitake said they knew Conover and Maiava-Peters were going to be “special and ultra-competitive” when they recruited them out of high school, “and it is showing right now.”

Hall said he’s also been impressed with the backups.

“Everyone from high school until now, they have done special things,” Hall said. “I think any quarterback that comes here, they gotta realize that their time could come at any snap and any game. I am excited for them and their futures. … We will be in good hands.”

A closer look at the three main candidates

Jacob Conover: The former four-star recruit who reportedly had an offer from Alabama out of high school didn’t turn a lot of heads when he played the entire second half against Utah State last October, but he did deliver a win, 34-20 over the Mountain West Conference champion Aggies. 

BYU quarterback Jacob Conover takes a snap during practice in the Indoor Practice Facility at BYU in Provo, Feb. 28, 2022.
BYU quarterback Jacob Conover takes a snap during practice in the Indoor Practice Facility at BYU in Provo on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Conover is one of three QBs in the running for QB2 duties in Provo. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Conover was 5 of 9 for 45 yards in Logan, with a long of 16.

“I feel like that was my job, to manage the game, and make sure we came out with the W. Obviously, I could have made a few more throws, but I didn’t get the chance to throw much. It felt great to just play football again,” he said.

Ever positive, Conover said he is enjoying the QB2 competition so far.

“I am placed in a great position,” he said. “I get to push Jaren. Obviously he is the starter, and was the starter last year. Every spring there is competition, every fall there is competition. We are here to push each other, make each other better and have a healthy quarterback room.”

Conover said his goals this season are to be ready when called on and earn the coaches’ trust.

“I want to display that I am ready to go at any moment, because last year we didn’t know who was going to play,” he said. “I just want to fill my role, support everyone else, and be ready to go when called upon.”

Cade Fennegan: Asked to describe the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Fennegan to BYU fans who might not have seen him play against the Cougars in 2020, Roderick said the Texan is more athletic than some might think.

“He is a very good athlete, with quick feet,” Roderick said. “He can make plays with his feet. He can run, and he’s got a quick release.”

Because the 2020 season didn’t count due to the pandemic, Fennegan is considered a redshirt freshman with four years of eligibility remaining. In high school, he threw for more than 6,400 yards, with 94 passing touchdowns and 18 rushing TDs.

He is the son of former BYU football player Garth Fennegan (1990-93). Can he become the backup?

“I think I just have to compete,” he said. “You know, it is a stacked quarterback room. Every one of these guys here could be a starting quarterback. That’s kind of the mentality we have. I think at the end of the day it just all comes down to competing. You know, making every rep count.”

Fennegan ran BYU’s scout team last fall, and says it helped him get back in the groove of throwing every day.

“I was going against a top-tier defense, and that helped a lot. I was going against the first-team D every day,” he said. “Getting those reps under my belt helped me coming into spring and everything, helped me learn to take some chances. On scout team, you are told to just let it rip, and I did. … I feel like I got pretty good at taking shots down the field.”

Boise State quarterback Cade Fennegan throws against BYU during game Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. BYU won 51-17. Fennegan is now part of the deep QB room at BYU. | Steve Conner, Associated Press

Fennegan, who is on scholarship, said he took a “leap of faith” to enter the transfer portal with the hope that BYU would soon be calling, and it did.

“Once I was in the portal, A-Rod called and was like, ‘Hey man, you were one of our top guys. If you ever have interest, we would love to recruit you, and now that you are (in the portal), we have a spot for you.’”

Fennegan said he learned a lot from watching Hall and Romney play last year.

“Obviously, Jaren is a playmaker. He is a stud athlete, and he is just calm under pressure and good at making those plays. Just his mental approach to the game is impressive,” Fennegan said. “He is very studious in terms of watching film, analyzing defenses. So not only his playmaking ability, but just the way he approaches the game and the way he goes about watching film, studying and preparing for Saturdays.”

Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters: By his own admission, Maiava-Peters struggled in the classroom his first year at BYU, so much so that his parents decided to leave their home in the Washington, D.C., area and move to Provo to help him with his academics.

He wants to repay them for that sacrifice with a big contribution on the football field in 2022.

“Struggles in the classroom are kind of what set me back a little bit,” he said last week. “For a little bit, I wasn’t eligible, but then I got eligible right before the season, right before fall camp. But it was a struggle, for sure.”

Now that he’s got a better handle on his academics, Maiava-Peters is eager to show what he can do. He just needs a chance, he says.

BYU quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters warms up as BYU and USF prepare to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 25, 2021.
BYU quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters warms up as BYU and USF prepare to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“This spring, I am already getting some good reps in,” he said. “It is way better than I started off last year in spring ball, I feel. I am getting better.”

He said running back Lopini Katoa, offensive lineman Joe Tukuafu and former DL Khyiris Tonga took him in and helped him through some tough times his first two years at BYU.

Because he has yet to see the field and part of a stacked quarterback room, Maiava-Peters is often asked if he would ever be interested in playing another position at BYU. The answer is maybe.

“My mindset is always quarterback, quarterback all the way,” he said. “But if the team decides that I should play another position, I am a team-first type of dude, and I would consider it. I feel like I am a good athlete. I would think about playing safety, more than anything.”

However, Maiava-Peters said he’s been a QB since he was in the eighth grade, and that’s the position he loves.

“I’m just trying to get better every day, and I believe things will work out,” he said.