PROVO — BYU football players and coaches sweated through another grueling practice in the 90-degree heat Monday morning, then met with reporters via Zoom and expressed hope they could play a season this fall despite reports over the weekend that more conferences were going to bail on fall sports completely.

“We all want to play,” quarterback Zach Wilson said emphatically. “Every single player here wants to play this year. No doubt about it.”

A few hours later, more doubt — perhaps the final nail in the coffin — came as the Mountain West Conference said it wasn’t going to play this fall, according to a Stadium report by Brett McMurphy and later confirmed by the conference. The Cougars were scheduled to play three MW teams — Utah State, Boise State and San Diego State — and are now down to just three opponents on their 2020 schedule: Navy, Houston and North Alabama.

BYU officials did not immediately respond to a request for a statement on the most recent cancellations.

“I said it the first day of practice (on Aug. 4), that we are going to be ready for opportunities that come our way. So right now we are focused on getting to that kickoff against Navy (on Sept. 7) and be ready to match the toughness of that team.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

After practice, but before the Mountain West news hit Twitter, BYU coach Kalani Sitake declined to “get involved in all that stuff,” when he was asked about the “rumors” of conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceling or postponing their seasons.

“I said it the first day of practice (on Aug. 4), that we are going to be ready for opportunities that come our way,” he said. “So right now we are focused on getting to that kickoff against Navy (on Sept. 7) and be ready to match the toughness of that team.”

Sitake said it has been “business as usual” during BYU practices despite the chaos and uncertainty that reigns throughout the country.

“I am not listening to the rumors and all that other stuff,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do other than that. Fun work, though.”

The Mountain West became the second Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference to rule out fall football, joining the Mid-American Conference (MAC), which made the decision Saturday. That decision cost the Cougars an Oct. 24 game at Northern Illinois.

It came two days after BYU added Navy to its schedule, jumping at the opportunity to play the Midshipmen in Annapolis, Maryland, on Labor Day night on ESPN.

The Cougars, who scrimmaged in full pads Saturday and wore helmets and shoulder pads (shells) only on Monday, were buoyed by that announcement, and the attitude carried into Monday before the Aggies, Broncos and Aztecs were wiped from the slate.

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“Ever since I was a little kid I have been taught to not worry about things you can’t control, and only worry about things you can control,” said offensive lineman Brady Christensen. “So we can voice our opinion and stuff, but in the end we can’t really control what happens this season. So we are really just focused on Navy.”

Christensen said talk in the locker room, and extreme hope, is that BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe can replace the lost games with suitable opponents. The players’ attitude is that the Cougars will play anyone, he said, to preserve their season.

BYU running back Jackson McChesney looks for daylight during fall camp at BYU on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. | Jaren Wilkey/BYU

“We believe we are playing Navy, and it is on our schedule, so every day we are going to come out and do the work, because that’s really all we can do right now, is just go out and do our best and just prepare,” Christensen said. “And that’s really all we are doing, and that’s the mentality of all the players right now.”

Sitake said he encourages his players to talk among themselves and to coaches, express fears over the COVID-19 pandemic or whatever else is on their minds. The feeling he has gotten is that every player wants to play. Last week, he said no players had opted out due to health concerns.

“It is good to keep the discussion alive and see what others are saying,” he said. “Any chance you can learn what people want (is good). For the most part, I think our guys feel the same way. They want to play. We have to be careful and make sure we are practicing as safely as we can, and be safe in our social life, and even when we are here in meetings. So I promote our guys hanging out and sharing their feelings with each other, and their thoughts. It has been a really cool experience for me to see the guys doing that. That’s part of being a family.”

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So what’s next for BYU?

Obviously, the Cougars now focus on possible opponents from conferences that haven’t canceled, or haven’t said they will only play other conference teams such as the Big Ten and Pac-12. Ideally, they would like to get a couple games from the Big 12 and one game from the ACC — Clemson is the only ACC team with an opening.

BYU will also look to the American Athletic Conference, which is similar in prestige to the Mountain West but hasn’t canceled any games.

Not yet, anyway.

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