Get ready for what is arguably going to be the most important starting quarterback competition in BYU football coach Kalani Sitake’s nine-year tenure.

The madness begins Thursday, as the Cougars begin spring practices in Provo — most likely at the Indoor Practice Facility, since the calendar, and the weather, say it is Feb. 29 — with one primary goal in mind: Get better, and fast.

“So Gerry (Bohanon) and Jake (Retzlaff) will get the bulk of the reps, and then we will find ways to get Cade (Fennegan), Ryder (Burton) and Treyson (Bourguet) in there to see who we think the third guy is.”

—  BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

Finding a capable, playmaking, turnover-avoiding starting quarterback will go a long way toward BYU realizing that objective, and erasing last year’s disappointing 5-7 campaign that showed the Cougars weren’t quite ready to compete in the Big 12.

So who’s it going to be?

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick spoke exclusively to the Deseret News last week and said, “Spring ball will be a competition between Jake (Retzlaff) and Gerry (Bohanon) for the starting job. It is a two-way race right now.”

Retzlaff is the incumbent, of sorts, after he spelled an ailing Kedon Slovis and started in BYU’s final four games, all losses. Bohanon is the well-traveled, experienced QB who began his career at Baylor before losing the starting job to Blake Shapen in Waco and transferring to South Florida.

Roderick said the coaching staff didn’t scour the transfer portal for a QB this offseason as hard as they did last year, when they got Slovis from Pitt, “but we were open to a transfer” if it was the right fit.

“We were not going to get one just to get one,” Roderick said. “We felt like if there was a player that character-wise and program-wise was a good fit, and he has a chance to make us better, or a chance to beat Jake out, or push Jake, then it is worthwhile.”

That player was Bohanon. The Cougars were familiar with the 6-foot-3, 226-pound super senior, who already has a master’s degree, because they recruited him when he entered the transfer portal after leaving Baylor. This time, the former four-star recruit (ESPN and 247sports.com) recruited BYU.

“What I liked about him was he didn’t ask for anything. He didn’t ask for NIL money. He didn’t say, ‘I have to be the starter,’” Roderick said. “He just wanted an opportunity. So we flew down there and watched him throw, and he looked really good. He looked like he was healthy, finally.”

The Cougars might not have enough footballs to go around when the QBs break for individual drills on Thursday; nearly 10 will be wearing green practice jerseys, and about a half-dozen will be vying for meaningful reps.

Roderick said junior Cade Fennegan, redshirt freshman Ryder Burton and sophomore Treyson Bourguet, a walk-on transfer from Western Michigan, will compete for the third string spot in spring camp.

“So Gerry and Jake will get the bulk of the reps, and then we will find ways to get Cade, Ryder and Treyson in there to see who we think the third guy is,” he said. “We had recruited Treyson out of high school, and almost signed him. It was a close call, but we ended up not getting him. They had a coaching change there and he was looking for a change of scenery. He got into school here on his own and walked on. So he will get some reps.”

It is as crowded a quarterback room as BYU has ever had, Roderick admits. But that’s by design. Nobody wants a repeat of the 2022 situation when Jaren Hall had a bum shoulder but still played against Notre Dame because of the lack of talent behind him.

“You rarely go through a season with just one guy,” Roderick said.

The OC said Noah Lugo, the three-star prospect from Texas’ Eaton High School who signed in December, has already enrolled and will participate in spring practices.

“He is going to be a little bit of a project. He is a super, super athlete, one of the fastest hurdlers in the state of Texas,” Roderick said. “He’s got a ways to go. But we still want to find out about him.”

Roderick also spoke about the somewhat surprising departure of running back Aidan Robbins to the NFL, whether BYU needs another workhorse RB, and the offense’s biggest remaining needs from the transfer portal.

He also was heavily involved in the hiring of new offensive line coach TJ Woods and tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride. He spoke at length about that, and also touched upon the offense’s main objective in the next five weeks.

Here are the highlights:

Wanted: A reliable rushing attack

What needs to have happened when the Cougars break spring camp on March 30?

“We need to reestablish our run game,” Roderick said. “When we were great on offense, we were known as a physical team that could run the ball. Yeah, we had back-to back quarterbacks drafted, and we were throwing it down the field and stuff, but it all started with a physical run game.

“Getting back to that physical run game where we can impose our will on our opponents is the most important thing for us to establish this spring,” he continued. “That is critical. It all starts there, and that is the No. 1 goal of spring ball.”

So why didn’t coaches find an established RB in the portal to replace Robbins? Roderick acknowledged being “a little surprised” that the bruising back declared for the NFL draft last December.

“I think he had some people in his life telling him that he should move on,” Roderick said. “I think he should have stayed, but he’s gone.”

Roderick said he feels good about the backs who are back in the RBs room, most notably rising sophomore LJ Martin, Hinckley “Folau” Ropati (injured in 2023) and junior Miles Davis, who briefly entered the portal but chose to return.

“I feel really great about LJ Martin, man,” Roderick said. “He has really grown. He did a good job last year and he has really transformed his body. He looks like a grown man already. He made a great transformation in one year.”

Roderick is also high on freshman Pokaiaua Haunga, a class of 2023 signee out of nearby Timpview High who grayshirted last season.

“We found a way to get him in,” Roderick said. “He has looked really good so far. I think that group is really solid.”

BYU on the lookout for more offensive linemen

What will be on BYU’s wish list when the transfer portal reopens on May 1? Roderick said the coaching staff is still looking for a couple more offensive linemen, as Kingsley Suamataia and Paul Maile move on. Starters Connor Pay, Caleb Etienne, Weylin Lapuaho and Brayden Keim are back.

“I don’t want to have the complete O-line overhaul that we ended up with last year,” Roderick said. “All those guys were good enough players individually. We just never gained the continuity of playing as a unit. I think the turnover there had a lot to do with it.”

Losing Blake Freeland to the NFL, the Barrington brothers to Baylor and Harris LaChance after the 2022 season caused more retooling than was optimal.

“So now we have some pretty good continuity with returning guys, but we could use two more players there, for either depth or to compete for a starting job,” Roderick said. “I think it is critical that we add some depth, but it is not going to be the complete overhaul that it was a year ago, which I feel good about.”

Shuffling the coaching staff

After offensive line coach Darrell Funk and tights end coach Steve Clark were let go, Sitake left the hiring of their replacements up to Roderick, for the most part.

Woods was brought in to work with the offensive linemen and Gilbride was hired to coach the tight ends. Roderick said he has known both veteran coaches for a long time.

A couple of his best friends in coaching, Utah OC Andy Ludwig and San Jose State’s Kevin McGiven, recommended Woods, who Ludwig worked with at Wisconsin and McGiven worked with at Oregon State.

“Kevin McGiven said he’s the best O-line coach he had ever worked with,” Roderick said. “And then (Georgia Southern coach) Clay Helton really had a big impact. Kalani talked to him.”

Roderick said he was assigned to “do the big brother thing” with Gilbride when Roderick was a senior and Gilbride was a freshman at BYU, and they hit it off and have been close friends ever since.

Gilbride was on the Carolina Panthers’ staff in the NFL before coach Matt Rhule was fired, and he volunteered at Charlotte last year.

“We talked a few times last season and he told me he was enjoying his taste of college and so yeah, I reached out to him to see if he was interested in this job,” Roderick said. “We are pretty fortunate. He is an outstanding coach, with great experience in the NFL. He has already brought a lot to our offense and to our program.”

BYU spring football

Important dates to remember:

  • Thursday — First spring practice, Provo.
  • March 22 — Alumni game.
  • March 28-30 — Big 12 pro days in Frisco, Texas.
  • March 30 — Final spring practice.
BYU Cougars quarterback Jake Retzlaff looks to pass the ball during BYU’s practice in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Retzlaff is the incumbent but he'll have plenty of competition for QB1 duties in 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News