PROVO — BYU running back Lopini Katoa couldn’t be blamed if he rolled his eyes in amusement, perhaps disgust, when he heard that coaches were bringing in another fifth-year graduate transfer — Utah’s Devonta’e Henry-Cole — this season to compete for the starting spot in the Cougars’ backfield.

Instead, Katoa said he will welcome the former Ute with open arms.

“We need the help,” said the former American Fork standout who figures to start the season, whenever that may be, as the Cougars’ primary ball carrier, just as he did last year. “If he can help the team, I am all for it.”

BYU’s key projected running backs in 2020


• Lopini Katoa, Jr., 6-1, 210


• Devonta’e Henry-Cole, Sr., 5-9, 197


• Tyler Allgeier, So., 5-11, 220


• Jackson McChesney, Fr., 6-0, 205


• Sione Finau (injured), So., 5-11, 185


• Alec Wyble-Meza, So., 5-10, 200


• Theo Dawson, So., 6-0, 225


• Chase Wester, Jr., 5-11, 195


• Bruce Garrett, Fr., 5-11, 190


Last year after spring practices, Katoa watched with the same enthusiasm as BYU added grad transfers Ty’Son Williams of South Carolina and Emmanuel Esukpa of Rice. And he remained positive even as Williams and Esukpa took some of his carries before each sustained what amounted to season-ending injuries.

“Seeing it from the coaches’ perspective, there have been two years in a row where we have needed every single person in the running backs room,” Katoa said. “Injuries have decimated us. So to me, if we have the opportunity to bring a playmaker in, it makes sense. It makes us a better team, and so I think it is going to be good for competition and just helping us all get better.”

“We have a big group right now, and a pretty talented group.” — Lopini Katoa on BYU’s running backs

In an interview in early March before BYU canceled spring practices after six sessions, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Katoa said there was more of a “team-like vibe” on the practice field and in the locker room after the Cougars fell 38-34 to Hawaii on Christmas Eve. He left that game with an ankle injury and had been rehabbing it for several weeks when camp began. He said he was close to 100% and hadn’t missed any spring practices.

“Each year, you have a new set of things to work on, so spring ball never gets old,” said the redshirt junior. “At the beginning, the stress for me was learning the plays. Now it is like, second-level moves, making people miss, breaking out. There are always stuff to build on, so it keeps it interesting.”

As for the addition of “DHC,” who is wrapping up his coursework at Utah and will join the team this summer, Katoa said he spent some time with the Floridian when Henry-Cole visited campus in January and early February.

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“I think he’s a cool kid,” Katoa said. “I think his personality, who he is, is going to fit really well here.”

With redshirt sophomore Sione Finau having had knee surgery in January and not expected to be ready at the beginning of fall camp, look for Katoa, Henry-Cole, sophomore Tyler Allgeier and redshirt freshman Jackson McChesney to compete for the bulk of the carries next fall.

Graduate-assistant Harvey Unga was named BYU’s new running backs coach on March 19. He replaced AJ Steward, who moved on to Arizona.

Not having an RBs coach “hasn’t slowed us down at all,” Katoa said before Unga’s hiring was announced. “I feel like we have maybe even taken some bigger steps. Harvey has been there for us; It was an easy transition for him to step in and just be a voice in our room.”

Katoa and Allgeier both said they wanted Unga, a former BYU standout, to get the full-time job.

“Those relationships with Harvey, that trust, is already there,” Katoa said. “We know he can help us out a lot, so we would love nothing more that for Harvey to be our coach.”

BYU running back Lopini Katoa carries the ball during game against New Mexico State in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Other running backs on BYU’s spring roster include sophomore Theo Dawson, a transfer from Wyoming; sophomore Alex Wyble-Meza, a transfer from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College; Chase Wester, a walk-on junior from Jackson County, Georgia; and former defenders Jackson Kaufusi and Johnny Tapusoa.

Prized freshman recruit Bruce Garrett of Texarkana, Texas, will join the team this summer.

“We have a big group right now, and a pretty talented group,” Katoa said.

Sitake said he “feels comfortable” with the running backs on the roster, but isn’t ruling out another grad-transfer addition if one becomes available that could fit in like Williams and Esukpa did last year.

“We are always interested (in the transfer portal), but I don’t know if there is a crazy effort to look (every day) and make that a plan,” Sitake said. “They have to fit the numbers, but also fit our scheme and lifestyle.”