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Could BYU’s ability to thrive in the offseason lead to changes in team conditioning?

BYU’s relative mature roster has led to increased focus in the offseason, despite all the COVID-19 restrictions, according to Cougar players and coaches.

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BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson (23) deflects a pass away from tight end Matt Bushman (89) during the Cougars’ opening day of training camp Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Provo.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

PROVO — It’s widely known BYU football has a roster that is significantly older than others, with some opposing coaches stating it gives the program an advantage.

Well, those same coaches may have a point, at least for this extraordinary season.

Given the circumstances dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t been business as usual for any football program throughout most of the offseason. Teams have had to deal with subsequent restrictions, placing much more personal responsibilities in conditioning and other factors involved in getting ready for the season.

According to BYU coaches and players, the program has not only survived under the increased restrictions, but has thrived.

Those same players underwent a full practice session Tuesday, with BYU coach Kalani Sitake excited with what he saw from his team.

“I see a group that is really focused,” Sitake said. “... We have a good chance. That’s probably the best thing for me to say, but I’m really excited with what I saw today and what I’ve seen from these guys during the transition.”

Sitake credits his team’s leadership and overall maturity for the strides made during adverse conditions. With the returns looking promising initially, all of it may portend a change in future offseason workout regimens.

“Guys were able to go out on their own and find their own specialized training,” Sitake said. “So it creates this intrinsic motivation that, ‘If I’m going to do this, then I’m more bought into it.’ ... It kind of gives you some thought of how it should be from now on, and I think that keeping it more personalized may be the new way of doing stuff for us.”

Of course to succeed in personalized workouts, it takes a measure of personal responsibility and ability to function outside of a group environment effectively. But collectively, BYU players and coaches believe they largely have the mentality and maturity to pull it off.

Take senior tight end Matt Bushman, who went about his own conditioning with enthusiasm for his final year in Provo.

“When you get older you kind of are self-motivated to be as good as you can be. So during the quarantine we weren’t allowed to be at BYU, so it was about finding places to get better, and ... I was able to change my body and get in good shape, and I just feel really good.” — BYU tight end Matt Bushman

“When you get older you kind of are self-motivated to be as good as you can be,” Bushman said. “So during the quarantine we weren’t allowed to be at BYU, so it was about finding places to get better, and ... I was able to change my body and get in good shape, and I just feel really good.”

Bushman says he’s not alone with taking advantage of individual workouts, seeing a lot of progress made by his teammates.

“Not feeling that they’re not required to be at the workouts, but that they’re self-motivated — I feel like that brought more out of the player, and it’s just been exciting to see,” Bushman said. “Being able to be with everyone (again) has just been cool, and everyone just seems excited to be back.”

Of course players and coaches kept in touch throughout the long offseason through Zoom conferences, and other means, helping throughout the process.

The hope is now to actually play a season, which is a dicey prospect given the cancelation of half of BYU’s schedule due to Power Five conferences moving to largely conference-only play. It, of course, throws a wrench into preparations, although Bushman believes there will be a season, and that the players will be up for it.

“The biggest thing is just to hope for the best and hope there’s a season and a great schedule ahead of us,” Bushman said. “I know we’ve lost some games, but the administration is trying to work us in to play the best competition possible. ... Even though there’s a lot of questions, it seems as if we’re going to play a season and it seems like that when we’re out there.”