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How BYU football players, coaches have maintained focus during the pandemic

The Cougar coaching staff has engaged players through Zoom meetings, guest speakers and film breakdown.

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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 — When BYU and college campuses across the country closed their athletic facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, athletes had to find alternative ways to train, stay in shape and stay motivated.

With so much uncertainty about the status of the upcoming college football season, players have had to look within themselves. 

“For me, it’s about building good habits. One day I’ll be working and providing for my family. I’ve always been motivated because I have goals that I’ve set. The life lessons I’ve learned from football are innumerable.” — BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi

“It causes you to dig deep and hone in and focus on why you’re doing it. With the season up in the air and so much uncertainty, it is hard to focus. But for me, I’ve got a wife and a kid that I need to take care of,” said BYU senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. “Whether there’s a season or not, I’m trying to play in the NFL. I want to be the best football player I can be. I think that will translate to the NFL or even if the NFL doesn’t pan out or if I’m playing for a couple of years or a lot of years. Eventually, football will end. For me, it’s about building good habits. One day I’ll be working and providing for my family. I’ve always been motivated because I have goals that I’ve set. The life lessons I’ve learned from football are innumerable. I’ve tried to apply that to my life. It’s kept me motivated.”

The football coaching staff has engaged players through Zoom meetings that have included guest speakers and film breakdown.

Running back Lopini Katoa has enjoyed what the coaches have presented through Zoom, including sessions with former BYU players like Andy Reid, John Tait, Rob Morris and Danny Sorensen. 

“We’ve had really beneficial meetings, full offensive meetings with guest speakers. Former players and coaches talked to us. It’s been good to connect with them and get their advice and learn from them,” Katoa said. “Basically, we were able to study film through the Zoom calls. That’s helped a lot. It hasn’t been perfectly smooth but we did the best that we could. As far as knowledge goes, we’re in the right spot, and maybe better than we would have been if things were normal because we’ve been able to spend so much time studying film.”

“At first, it was kind of baptism by fire, trying to learn through a computer. Now, I think it’s very productive and guys like it. They have to be short and sweet. They cut to the chase,” Kaufusi said of Zoom meetings. “A lot of the emphasis is on what we need to learn. They’ve done a good job of mixing it up and not making it generic and vanilla. One day, we’re watching practices. One day, we’re watching NFL guys. One day, former BYU players are talking to us. That’s been really fun.”

Kaufusi added that coach Kalani Sitake and his assistant coaches have taken time to coach him and his teammates personally. 

“Kalani called me about a week into the quarantine and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve watched all of your plays from last season and here are things you need to work on.’ He did a good job of reaching out to me and watched film of a lot of guys,” he said. “He gave me very specific instructions and techniques that needed to be improved on. My quarantine has been focusing on those things that he’s asked of me and will make me a better football player. That’s been a huge blessing — Kalani, and our position coaches, reaching out to us.”

Kaufusi has been able to train with two of his cousins, Bronson and Corbin Kaufusi, who are playing in the NFL. He’s grateful to be able to work out with and learn from them. 

As for BYU’s upcoming season, which is scheduled to kick off Sept. 3 at Utah, Kaufusi is cautiously optimistic. 

“I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m really hoping for a season,” he said. “But I’m prepared for no season. Obviously, there are people that know what’s best for our team and the nation as a whole and wouldn’t want to put lives in jeopardy by having a season. I don’t have a clue. But I’m hoping and praying for a season.”