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BYU football coach Kalani Sitake addresses starting QB battle, threat to college football season

Sitake shares insights into the current state of BYU football

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Head coach Kalani Sitake talks to reporters after Brigham Young University football practice in Provo on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake did a lot of talking on Thursday, spending nearly a half-hour in the morning on a BYUtv sports program and another hour in the evening on Instagram as part of the BYU athletic department’s “Hanging With the Cougs” social media celebration during the coronavirus pandemic.

Obviously, the pandemic’s disruption of college sports, and whether the 2020 football season will be delayed, shortened or canceled altogether, was a hot topic during both programs.

Sitake said he is eager to get back together with his team and get them preparing in person for the season. When will that be? He doesn’t know, but called the state of Utah moving to a low-risk category in response to COVID-19 “a really great sign.”

BYU said its athletic facilities will remain closed through the end of May, but people can now meet in groups up to 50 people, as opposed to just 20.

“Our administration has been unbelievable,” Sitake said. “They have been preparing for so many different scenarios. They are ready for this next transition we are about to make.”

Sitake said the health of his players remains his top priority.

“We are going to do whatever we can to make sure they are healthy, and train them and get them ready for the season,” he said.

While some coaches have said they need up to two months to get their teams ready, Sitake said he needs much less time, reiterating what he said on a “Zoomin With the Cougs” production Wednesday.

“As long as we are given the same amount of time as everybody else, I don’t see how there could be a problem in letting these guys play the season. So that’s what it is coming down to,” he told moderator Spencer Linton on the Instagram update. “I feel like (BYU athletic director) Tom Holmoe has done an amazing job with his staff in communicating with us the right plan to go into effect once this thing rolls again, and he’s done a great job of predicting all of it.”

Sitake said his team “had an amazing semester” excelling in the classroom, even when classes went online only in mid-March.

Asked what his preference for the season would be — shortened, delayed, conference-only games, etc. — Sitake mostly demurred but said a full season would be best.

“I think there is this thirst and hunger for people wanting to get back together and get things back to normal, and normal life is football in the fall. So I think that is the wish,” he told Greg Wrubell and Jason Shepherd of BYUtv sports. “For the most part, everybody is wishing for everything to get back to normal — not just football, but school, life, just everything in society. I just know that when football is being played in the fall, that’s a good sign that things are back to normal.”

Sitake acknowledged that a “high number” of players have returned home from church missions in response to the COVID-19 spread, and many are just now being reassigned to different places within the United States or Canada.

Those who are suddenly back in the program and not going out again “have jumbled things up, numbers-wise, a little bit, but that’s OK, we will adjust and try to accommodate as many as we can,” he said. “We can’t accommodate all of them because the NCAA won’t give us more than the 85 scholarships we are allotted.”

Sitake said the six practices BYU held in March before spring ball was terminated were physical and beneficial. Linton asked him about the competition to be starting quarterback between Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney.

“From the first practices we had this spring, we saw some really good things from Zach,” Sitake said. “But we also saw some really good things from Jaren and Baylor. So those guys really stepped up their games. It is not like they had to catch up, one to the other. They have all gotten better.”

Sitake said he’s heard “good reports” that all three are working hard during the pandemic.

“I think it is a beneficial thing for us as a staff to provide a competition for them, and they are all about it. We will see how it all shakes out,” he said. “I feel really confident in all three of those guys because all three have won games for us and have gained valuable experience. I don’t know any other way than to let the best play, and so in order for that to happen, we have to give them a chance to compete, and that’s what we look forward to doing. The best one is going to be on the field.”

Sitake said all of BYU’s athletic programs have been using Zoom a lot to communicate with their athletes.

Recently, coach Andy Reid of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs spoke via Zoom to the entire athletic department. Former BYU football stars Steve Young, Rob Morris, John Tait, Dennis Pitta, John Beck and Austin Collie have also made appearances to speak to specific football position groups.