PROVO — As BYU gets closer to wrapping up fall camp next week, it’s clear that these practice sessions have been much different from the previous three camps under coach Kalani Sitake.

In 2016, Sitake’s first season at the helm, everything was new. In 2017, the Cougars lost major contributors like Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Kai Nacua and they struggled to find replacements. In 2018, BYU was breaking in a new offensive coaching staff and a new offense. 

In 2019, there’s much more continuity, cohesion and confidence.

“We’re all playing a lot more confident and we trust ourselves more. We’re not hesitant about making the right play. It’s just, do your job and get it done,” said tight end Matt Bushman. “Everyone is working well together. The tight ends have improved leaps and bounds. The younger guys have stepped up and we’re finding ways to make plays and take shots that two years ago we weren’t necessarily doing.”

“I’m excited about this year. Everything is going to fall into place really well. It’s going to be a special year. This year has a very good feel.” — BYU wide receiver Talon Shumway

Sitake likes the leadership that’s been developed and the high level of ownership from the players.  

“Leadership’s been really important for us,” Sitake said. “I’m loving what I’m seeing from our guys. It’s not necessarily just the veterans and upperclassmen. It’s everyone taking the initiative to lead this team and work together. It’s been a lot of fun and it makes my job a lot easier.”

Last August, BYU went through a quarterback battle between senior Tanner Mangum and true freshman Zach Wilson. By midseason, Wilson had won the starting job and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes revamped the offensive style to fit Wilson’s skillset. 

During the offseason, the Cougars have built upon the momentum from the end of last year. 

“Instead of doing that soul-searching during the middle of the season, we took it upon ourselves during the offseason to find out who we want to be,” said offensive lineman Tristen Hoge. “By the time camp rolled around, we’ve seen ourselves develop into that identity that we want to have throughout this season. It’s going really well so far. What we’re talking about right now is finding that identity for this team. Right now, we’re on the cusp of finding out who we are. As we’re building to that, we’re looking to have a great season. We see things with this team that we haven’t seen before.”

And BYU might have the most depth it has had in years. 

“There’s a lot of bodies there. We have a shifting depth chart,” Sitake said of the defense. “There’s a lot of guys battling for spots and playing time. There have been some surprises that have snuck in there and show that they can be on the field a little bit. We’re seeing a lot more freshmen play. This year, we feel a lot more comfortable with freshmen playing than we have in years past.”

Another factor that has impacted the approach during camp is that the season opener is against Utah. The Cougars are looking to avenge a 35-27 loss to the Utes last November.  

When we first lost to them, the first thing in our mind was, ‘How did we lose to them?’ It left a bad taste in our mouths. We said, ‘Let’s take it out on Western Michigan,’ which we did,” said safety Austin Lee. “Then we were excited to know that we had Utah in Game 1 this season. We’re still mad about it but it has created a sense of urgency in everything that we’ve done. Every rep that we’ve done, every run and every lift. We’ve carried that momentum to think that we’ve got to be ready in Game 1 against Utah. We’re excited and it’s created a lot of urgency in everything that we’ve done.”

Of the three fall camps that Bushman has participated in at BYU, he’s enjoyed this one the most.

“It’s been a really good experience as an offense and as a team. There’s just a different energy — a positive energy towards what could happen this year. We have a really good team, a really experienced team,” he said. “And we also have a lot of young guys that are going to step up and do really well. I’m really excited. Out of the two fall camps that I’ve previously done, this is by far, as an offense, it’s the most prepared and experienced we’ve been. We understand what we’re doing in the second year of this offense. Everyone’s more confident with the plays and what we have to do. The biggest thing right now is executing those plays and not having any mental mistakes.”

Senior wide receiver Talon Shumway is hoping that a successful camp will translate to a successful season. 

“I’m excited about this year. Everything is going to fall into place really well,” he said. “It’s going to be a special year. This year has a very good feel.”

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