Can Hinckley Ropati replace loss of Devonta’e Henry-Cole in BYU’s backfield?
When former Utah RB Devonta’e Henry-Cole decided to settle in at USU, BYU’s offensive coaches immediately dialed up a back from Cerritos JC in Hinckley Ropati
PROVO — Hinckley Ropati may just work out after all.
He’s quick, strong, thick, can pound the ball and catch it out of the backfield.
BYU’s coaches are hoping this running back out of Cerritos College in California can add to the stable of backs preparing for the opener at Navy on Sept. 7.
Ropati, you may remember, was BYU’s immediate turn-to guy when Utah transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole spent a few months as a Cougar before deciding to make another hop, skip and jump to Logan and play his senior year at Utah State.
That was almost a month ago, about July 19.
Boy, a lot has changed since then.
Utah State, a member of the Mountain West, is postponing its season along with several Power Five conferences. But Ropati and the Cougars will forge on, hoping there is no interruption growing list of games athletic director Tom Holmoe has reconstructed, practically out of thin air.
Ropati has been mask and face shield deep in learning BYU’s offense the past three weeks as offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and running backs coach Harvey Unga have put that position through the paces. Some of the leaders have been returning starter Lopini Katoa, Jackson McChesney and Tyler Allgeier.
After Thursday’s scrimmage, Grimes answered inquiries about Ropati’s progress this fall.
He’s no Henry-Cole, but he is a guy both Grimes and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick have kept their eyes on for a while and immediately moved to get to Provo when Henry-Cole bailed.
“Ropati is a tremendous package of explosiveness, quickness and power. But he’s like anybody who is just joining your team. He’s still raw in terms of our scheme and is still learning how to carry the ball and subtle things like how to run a particular play or what his route is on a particular passing play.” — BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, on Hinckley Ropati
“Very talented kid, someone we’ve liked for a long time and planned on having him here. We just weren’t planning on having him here until January,” said Grimes. “When the spot opened, A-Rod and I both jumped on it and Kalani was ready to go with it as well. He is from A-Rod’s (recruiting area) and had been recruiting him for a while. We wanted him on the team because he is really, really talented.”
Since joining the squad, Grimes said the talent they saw in Ropati in the recruiting process is proving itself out. “That talent shows up every day,” BYU’s offensive coordinator said.
Of course, it remains to be seen if Ropati can adequately provide, or even surpass, what Henry-Cole could have delivered to the Cougars’ backfield — but Grimes will get more opportunities to answer that question. Henry-Cole was a one-year guy. Ropati will be a sophomore in eligibility.
“Ropati is a tremendous package of explosiveness, quickness and power. But he’s like anybody who is just joining your team,” Grimes said. “He’s still raw in terms of our scheme and is still learning how to carry the ball and subtle things like how to run a particular play or what his route is on a particular passing play.”
A year ago, BYU had created a very good position by committee with South Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams, Katoa and freshman Sione Finau. Williams proved to be a great one-year addition but went down in late-September with a season-ending knee injury in the Washington game in Provo. Later, Finau also had an ACL tear that ended his season.
Grimes knows if Ropati can get himself into a position to play, he will need him, regardless of the length of the season or number of games played in this strange COVID-19 year.
“I think he’ll probably be in the mix this year and we’re preparing him to be there.”
So, there’s one of those fun equations to look for deep in fall camp.
Exactly what can Ropati deliver and when? And can he be jerry-rigged into the position by committee to answer the unique Henry-Cole experiment, the gamble that never materialized this fall?
We shall see.