If you think BYU walk-on safety Ethan Slade was excited to see his name at the top of the depth chart the Cougars released on Monday, you should learn about the reaction from his parents.

“My parents (Rick and Joelle) are huge BYU fans, so this probably to them is more of a dream come true than it is to me in some ways,” Slade said after practice Tuesday. “They are ecstatic that I am playing.”

“I wasn’t a huge BYU fan growing up, like my parents. BYU was always a school maybe I wanted to go to. And then choosing to come to BYU, the day I chose BYU, the goal from Day 1 was to become a starter, doing whatever it took.” — BYU starting strong safety Ethan Slade.

Slade, who prepped at nearby Orem High before a church mission to Chile, will be BYU’s starting strong safety on Saturday when Sam Houston visits LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m., FS1).

“I am definitely excited,” he said after some mild prodding. “It is something I have been working for for awhile now. This camp has been a grind and I feel like I have been playing well. And the coaches have been putting me in the right positions. To be able to see that I have earned the spot was kind of a goal, something I could check off the list.”

BYU’s defensive coaches have always spoken highly of Slade, but truth be told his opportunity is coming because of the rash of injuries that have hit the strong safety position. Projected starter Micah Harper is lost for the season with another ACL tear, while Talan Alfrey — arguably the second-best safety on the roster — is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury.

Defensive coordinator Jay Hill, who is also the safeties coach, said Tuesday that they don’t know for sure how long Alfrey will be out.

“It is not going to be an immediate (return), but it is not going to be season-ending, either,” Hill said.

Regarding the 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore Slade, Hill said he earned the starting job because he is a playmaker.

“He has done that in spring ball and in fall camp again,” Hill said. “I know even prior to me coming in, he was a guy that people liked on the defensive side of the ball and coach Kalani (Sitake) really liked. He has proven his worth to the program here and has done nothing but impress me while I’ve been here.”

Fellow redshirt sophomore Crew Wakley and true freshman Raider Damuni are listed as Slade’s co-backups, but Damuni said Tuesday he’s the third-stringer and Wakley is the second-stringer.

What makes Slade such a good player?

“Man, he is just at the right spot all the time,” Damuni said. “He knows his plays, he brings a lot of energy to the table as well, and he is very physical. Although losing Micah and Talan is tough for us, it is also going to be OK. Ethan can make some plays.”

Hill said on Monday’s Coordinators’ Corner that it is “going to be safety by committee a little bit” until someone steps up and seizes the job. Slade said he believes it can be him.

“I wasn’t a huge BYU fan growing up, like my parents,” he said. “BYU was always a school maybe I wanted to go to. And then choosing to come to BYU, the day I chose BYU, the goal from Day 1 was to become a starter, doing whatever it took.”

Slade is in his third year in the program. He redshirted his freshman year (2021) and saw a little time last year, primarily on special teams.

Plenty of true freshmen dot BYU’s newly released depth chart. Is that a good thing?
‘Get my name out there’: BYU freshman tight end Jackson Bowers isn’t shying away from big expectations

“Last season was big for me on special teams,” he said. “That’s kind of where I started to get some playing time and recognition. That is kind of the route you gotta take when you are working your way up, try to make plays out there, and earn the trust of your coaches in those areas of the game.”

Sitake said Monday that Slade earned the spot because he’s a playmaker and a great student of the game.

“Obviously it hurts, not having Micah, and then not having Talan,” Sitake said. “But the guys will pick up where those guys left off.”

Slade was lightly recruited in high school, but Navy and Air Force offered scholarships late in the process. Utah, BYU and Utah State all offered preferred walk-on spots, and he chose BYU because he “felt most comfortable with the BYU coaching staff.”

How did he find out about the starting job?

He doesn’t have social media, but many of his friends and family members do, and when BYU’s official football account on X (formerly Twitter) posted the depth chart, texts came in fast and furious.

Slade got married three months ago to his high school sweetheart, the former Abby Kelly. She was a Cougarette for four years at BYU, so she probably did a little dance as well, Slade surmised.

“Everybody thinks it is cool,” he said. “But I know if I don’t play well on Saturday, it doesn’t really matter.”

Cougars on the air

Sam Houston (0-0) at BYU (0-0)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT

LaVell Edwards Stadium

Provo, Utah

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM