It takes an intriguing plot and a cast of endearing characters to pull off a blockbuster at the movies and on the football field. Special effects can help, but they can’t make up for an absence of the first two. BYU believes it has all three — a challenging schedule for its final year as an independent and a veteran roster — including players capable of having a special effect on the outcome.
For the young and old, male and female, a number of these Cougars will become superheroes in the months ahead. But which ones? And which superhero? Marvel and DC Comics are masters of the superhero universe. They have defined their long list of beloved characters. The challenge is to identify which Cougars will fit the role.
Here are some suggestions:
Peak physical condition, with heightened strength, endurance and agility. Skilled military leader and strategist.
Jaren Hall: The 6-1, 205-pound junior quarterback throws, runs and sometimes catches the football. He is BYU’s Mr. Everything. Hall threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He also ran for 307 yards and three touchdowns over the course of 10 games. Health will always be a factor for a quarterback and BYU’s success in 2022 hinges on Hall being on the field, leading, driving and scoring. Hall is Captain America.
Superhuman strength, speed and endurance.
Payton Wilgar: He doesn’t play with a hammer, but Wilgar showed he didn’t need one when he tossed Utah running back Micah Bernard to the ground for a two-yard loss during the Utes’ opening possession last September. At 6-3, 235 pounds, the junior is a force to be reckoned with. Even while missing the last three games with a shoulder injury, Wilgar finished last season as BYU’s third-leading tackler with 56 stops, including six tackles for loss and two interceptions. Wilgar is Thor.
Genius-level intellect, with particular aptitude in invention and engineering.
Isaac Rex: When we last saw this hero on the battlefield, he was being hauled off on a cart after a severe ankle injury last November at USC. Sadly, no snap of the fingers could speed up the recovery. He’s had to engineer his way back over the last nine months, both physically and mentally. Rex returned to practice last week and vows to be on the field Sept. 3 at South Florida. The 6-6, 247-pound sophomore already has 15 career touchdowns, including a nation-leading 12 his freshman season. Rex is Iron Man.
Ability to run, move and think extremely fast, use superhuman reflexes and seemingly violate certain laws of physics.
Puka Nacua: While a number of superhero roles fit his dynamic playmaking ability, Nacua’s speed, both before and after he catches the ball, sets him apart as a potential nightmare for every defense he faces. Last year, Nacua averaged 18.7 yards per reception and his best game came against the best defense the Cougars faced at eventual Big 12 champion Baylor. The 6-2, 205-pound junior Nacua caught five passes for 168 yards and his first BYU touchdown. Nacua is Flash.
Incredible human strength, durability and healing factor. Becomes more powerful as anger increases.
Blake Freeland: This 6-8, 305-pound junior played quarterback, tight end and defensive end at Herriman High before transitioning to the offensive line at BYU. He has grown more powerful with each passing season and his skillset has NFL teams green with envy. Freeland is Hulk.
Wears a sophisticated harness, granting high speed flight and precise aerial maneuverability.
Gunner Romney: While Romney doesn’t wear a harness, he does travel at a high rate of speed and his ability to go up and get the football is a weapon the Cougars plan to use all season long. The 6-2, 195-pound senior caught 34 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns, despite fighting through nagging injuries that sidelined him for three games. Romney is Falcon.
Superhuman strength, agility, endurance, ability to stick and to climb walls and other surfaces.
Jakob Robinson: Two spectacular interceptions on back-to-back defensive stops at Georgia Southern last November showcased Robinson’s ability to patrol his secondary, just like the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Robinson’s second interception of the night earned the 5-10, 165-pound sophomore some time on ESPN’s “Top Plays.” Robinson is Spider-Man.
Master of marksmanship.
Jake Oldroyd: One of BYU’s most consistent weapons, the 6-1, 195-pound junior made all 13 of his field goal attempts in 2020, including three of 50 yards or longer. He backed that up by hitting 9 of 13 in 2021. As for extra points, the marksman has converted 102 of 105 over the last two seasons. He will forever be remembered as the freshman who kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Arizona in Kalani Sitake’s BYU coaching debut in 2016. Oldroyd is Hawkeye.
Superhuman strength, speed, reaction time, enhanced senses and tracking abilities.
Keenan Pili: At middle linebacker, Pili has a knack for getting around. Prior to his season-ending ACL injury last year against Arizona State, Pili amassed 31 tackles, including 17 against Arizona. Back healthy, the 6-3, 235-pound junior is eager to again showcase his “tracking abilities” to chase down and tackle ball carriers. Pili is Wolverine.
Master tactician, skilled in hand-to-hand combat.
Ben Bywater: Called on to carry the defense last season with Wilgar and Pili dealing with injuries, Bywater responded with 102 tackles — 34 more than anyone on the team, including 8 ½ tackles for loss. The 6-3, 235-pound sophomore figures to be a menace alongside a healthy corps of comrades at linebacker. Bywater is Aqua Man.
Ability to transfer his size.
Jacob Boren: Despite his 5-9, 180-pound frame, Boren played much bigger than he is — finishing the season as the leading tackler on special teams. Boren is Ant Man.
Master of the mystic arts.
Ryan Rehkow: As one of the biggest and most productive punters in college football, Rehkow used his 6-6, 232-pound physique to average 48.58 yards per kick last season, including a mystifying school record 83-yard punt against Arizona State. He also had punts of 68, 66, 64 and 63 yards and pinned 16 kicks inside the opponents 20-yard line. He punts like an artist paints — one strategic stroke at a time. Rehkow is Dr. Strange.
Heightened strength, speed and stamina agility.
Malik Moore: With one spectacular play at Utah State, when he grabbed an interception with one hand while falling off-balance to the ground, Moore solidified himself as a superhero in the secondary. The 6-1, 190-pound senior had 33 tackles and three interceptions last season and is ready for one last blast at BYU. Moore is Black Panther.
Master tactician, strategist and field commander, master of hand-to-hand combat.
Chris Brooks: No newcomer has received more preseason attention at BYU than Brooks. The 6-1, 235-pound transfer from Cal is licking his chops at the chance to fill the void left by Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier. Brooks averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season for the Bears. Like the Batmobile, Brooks has the horsepower to go through or around his opposition. Brooks is Batman.
Head of the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D.
Darrell Funk: As coach of what could be one of the biggest and best offensive lines in college football, Funk is in charge of keeping a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” around Jaren Hall — especially as BYU tries to avenge last year’s defeat at Baylor. Funk is Fury.
Able to process information and make advanced calculations with superhuman speed.
Aaron Roderick: In between plays, Roderick has 40 seconds to process what the defense is doing and calculate the best play call to beat it. In addition, he must make sure the right personnel is on the field to execute the plan. He has a staff to help him, but when the offense is on the field, it all comes down to him. Roderick is Vision.
Gifted strategist, with aptitude for thinking outside the box.
Ilaisa Tuiaki: The Cougars defense held Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, and Washington State to 19 points or fewer, and with an injury-plagued outfit at USC, BYU stopped the Trojans on their final drive to complete a Pac-12 sweep in 2021. Most notably, after surrendering a school record 35 points in the second quarter to Virginia, Tuiaki adjusted his game plan at halftime and the defense allowed just 7 points in the second half in a 66-49 BYU win. Tuiaki is Star-Lord.
Enhanced vision, flight, stamina, super senses and longevity.
Kalani Sitake: The head coach is starting his seventh season at BYU with a contract that extends his longevity in Provo for years to come. Sitake’s vision for the program has taken flight with a 21-4 record over the last two seasons. His players love him. They say he “gets them” and Big-12 quality recruits are taking notice. His super stamina is on full display everyday as a football coach and a brand-new father.
Godlike strength, speed and invulnerability.
Timberly Sitake: She puts up with Super Man (Kalani) and manages their four children, including 1-month old Sylvia while her “Man of Steel” is on the job. She is still waiting for her invisible jet — maybe in the next contract extension? Timberly is Wonder Woman.
With preproduction nearly complete, BYU’s blue-carpet world premiere is set for Sept. 3 at South Florida. All of the A-listers and supporting cast will be on hand. But unlike Hollywood blockbusters, the plot of this production will be revealed on a week-to-week basis. Fans must keep returning to the theater (or stadium) to see what happens next.
It’s the great drama that is college football and, as with the movies, it is enhanced by optimism, a plate of nachos and a cold drink. But for now, we must endure three more weeks of previews. Those dang “coming attractions” just seem to take forever!
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host of “After Further Review,” “Countdown to Kickoff,” “The PostGame Show,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.