For the first time in recent memory, maybe ever, BYU football players had their names on the backs of their practice jerseys Tuesday as the Cougars held their first practice of 2023 preseason training camp in Provo.

And why not?

There are no fewer than 60 newcomers, maybe more, on the roster distributed by BYU at the outdoor practice facility, guys whose names weren’t on the roster when the Cougars downed SMU 24-23 in the New Mexico Bowl back in December.

“Football (starting) for a football coach is like Christmas Day.” — BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill.

Name tags were legitimately needed on the first day of August, just as they were in spring camp when they also had names on the backs of their jerseys. Are there more unknowns this year than ever before at Camp Kalani?

“Yeah, probably,” Sitake said. “But the unknowns can run and they are very athletic, so that is a good sign. The players, the veterans that are here, the returning players, have done a good job in the (player run practices) teaching them.

“You can see it from the offseason that they had,” Sitake continued. “The guys not only look good, but they are understanding the scheme and technique and that is a huge credit to what the leaders have done on our team currently.”

There were also a few more departures to confirm as well. Sitake acknowledged that New Mexico Bowl offensive MVP Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters is no longer in the program and not expected back.

The same applies to kicker Justen Smith, who participated in spring camp but is no longer competing with Matthias Dunn and Boise State transfer Will Ferrin to replace all-time leading scorer Jake Oldroyd.

But Sitake wasn’t interested in talking about the guys who weren’t there nearly as much as the ones who were.

“I liked it,” he said of opening day. “A lot of talent, a lot of depth, great competition. We got a lot of reps in there. … There is a lot of film to watch, but overall the energy at Day 1 is supposed to be like that. 

“There is a different feel to the team this year, and I like it, probably because of the great leadership the coaches are getting.”

In the media viewing portion of practice, freshman quarterback Ryder Burton especially shined, throwing some darts to Bentley Redden, Dom Henry and Kade Moore.

Walk-on QB Nick Billoups made a nice throw to Moore and Cade Fennegan spotted tight end Mason Fakahua for a nice gain. Defensively, safety-turned-linebacker Isaiah Glasker made a big play, picking off junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff.

Sitake said there were probably more team reps for a first day than ever before, mostly because there is a lot of competition going on still for two-deep spots and coaches want to give everyone as many chances to show what they can do before the pads go on later this week.

“We want to keep the competition going (from spring ball) and solidify the depth chart a little bit more,” Sitake said. “Right now there are a lot of great athletes who are competing for limited spots, so I think in the next little bit we will get them as many reps as we can and then evaluate and see what we gotta go with in two weeks time as we get closer to the game — solidify the starting spots and their roles and the different things we need to do with our sub-packages and everything.”

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Another player who impressed Tuesday was UNLV transfer running back Aidan Robbins, who sat out most of spring camp after having had wrist surgery over the winter.

“It was good to see him out there just doing 11-on-11 stuff,” Sitake said. “He’s done a great job. You can see the change in his body.”

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New defensive coordinator Jay Hill also spoke to reporters Tuesday and announced he and his family “are finally Utah County people” now after he commuted all spring from his home in Ogden, where he was Weber State’s head coach.

“It is good to be down here,” Hill said. “I got an eight-minute drive instead of an 80-minute drive.”

Like Sitake, Hill said he was happy with how veterans got newcomers up to speed in PRPs throughout the summer.

“Football (starting) for a football coach is like Christmas Day,” Hill said.

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