‘Choosing the right guy’ to replace Zach Wilson highest priority when BYU opens spring practices
Kalani Sitake and new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick discussed the strengths of Baylor Romney, Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters recently in various public appearances
BYU’s football team is less than two weeks away from opening spring practices, and there are storylines galore as the Cougars go about preparing for what they hope is another phenomenal season after posting an 11-1 record in 2020 and finishing 11th in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
At the top of the list: the starting quarterback derby.
Who will replace Zach Wilson, a probable top-five pick in the NFL draft?
The two men who will make that critical decision, new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and head coach Kalani Sitake, visited with various media outlets last week, and provided some clues as to what they will be looking for in a starting quarterback when spring camp opens March 1.
The Cougars open the season Sept. 4 against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
“Yeah, we are going to give all four guys reps in the spring,” Roderick told the Deseret News last week. “I am not promising all four of them equal reps. But what I will say is that by the time we play Arizona, each one of those guys should have a chance to show what they can do.”
Sitake told KSLsports.com on a Facebook Live segment that it is way too early to count anybody out. Neither coach spoke as if a decision will be made when spring ball ends, so expect the competition to pick up when fall camp begins in early August.
Sitake said “choosing the right guy” before the opener is more important than identifying the starter before voluntary summer workouts begin. For all he did last season, Wilson wasn’t named the 2020 starter until last August.
“The guys will compete, and we are going to play the best guys, and I think we have that formula established and it usually works out. Competition will get everyone better, the quarterback position specifically. It is going to be a lot of fun, man.” — Kalani Sitake
“The guys will compete, and we are going to play the best guys, and I think we have that formula established and it usually works out,” Sitake said. “Competition will get everyone better, the quarterback position specifically. It is going to be a lot of fun, man.”
Sitake promised “a lot of football playing this spring,” which likely means a bonafide spring game at the end of March, although it is doubtful fans will be able to attend.
“We are going to put as much pressure on them as we can to see their decision-making (ability) and everything else,” Sitake said. “We want to see who is going to perform the best when we take the field in Las Vegas.”
Hall and Romney recently spoke to the Deseret News, and both said they are 100% healthy and ready to compete, Hall after missing the 2020 season with a hip injury and Romney after being slowed by a fractured big toe in spring camp last year.
Romney is hoping his knowledge of the offense and experience playing in the most games of any of the candidates in 2019 and 2020 will give him the edge.
“I feel like for me the biggest thing I improved on since I last saw playing time was just being in live game situations, just increasing my understanding of the game, understanding the flow. The game became more natural to me. I felt like that was something I really needed to work on and this past year I have gotten a lot of experience with that. So I am just feeling more and more comfortable as the days continue to go on.”
Hall said winning the starting job is so important to him that he bypassed playing baseball this spring to give his body a rest and to be able to focus entirely on football.
“Everyone is being mature about (the QB race) and we all understand we are vying for the same spot,” Hall said. “Outside of that, you are good to one another and you are brothers. So that’s how it is.”
Roderick said his offense won’t be much different than what Baylor-bound Jeff Grimes had going the last few years in Provo, and he believes all four candidates could run it effectively, if given the chance and amount of reps in practice to get a good handle on it.
“Jaren and Baylor have both been here and played in some important games for us and I feel like those two absolutely deserve every opportunity to compete for the job,” Roderick said. “And then Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava will also get opportunities.”
Here’s what Roderick had to say about each quarterback:
On Romney: “He is an accurate thrower. And he is just a guy who is not bothered by anything. The word steady doesn’t do him justice. His first start, against Boise State (in 2019) was a game we were not supposed to win. And the weather was absolutely terrible. Everything goes against him, but he still goes out and plays well, and he’s not bothered by it. And he really is a guy that doesn’t hear any noise. He doesn’t get too up or down about anything. And he’s a really tough kid. He is a competitive, tough kid. He’s got a quiet confidence about himself that his teammates really like. They really respect him.”
On Hall: “I love baseball. I was supportive of him playing baseball. But it did take a toll on him. We underestimated how taxing that was on his health, and running back and forth and the workouts for both teams, and the practices. He would literally run from football straight over to baseball. You are talking about six to seven hours a day, and that doesn’t include classes and conditioning and all the other things student-athletes do. I think in the past, baseball made him a better football player. But this is a time for him to get healthy.”
On Conover: “Jacob did a lot of great things last year on scout team, and obviously he was a highly recruited guy. He was not supposed to join us until January. But came back from his mission early. We got a spot for him on the roster in fall camp, so he joined us in the fall. Got there a week into school starting. It took a couple of weeks to get acclimated, and then he started playing scout team quarterback.
“He was playing against our defense every day, and trying to run the other team’s offense. He just embraced the heck out of it. He played the role every week. He was literally trying to be the other team’s guy, the other team’s quarterback, trying to run their offense. He is a really good leader. He took a lot of pride into running the scout team.
“Every week I would get a comment from one of the defensive coaches about something good he did over there. They would say, ‘Hey, watch this clip of No. 24 in team today. You gotta see this throw he made.’ Something like that. So it was really cool to see what he did. He will make this (QB competition) interesting.”
On Maiava-Peters: “Sol-Jay, he is the one guy in that group who is a little different. He is a good player. He is an athletic guy. He can make a lot of plays with his feet. We always joke that when Sol-Jay goes in there, something exciting is going to happen. He makes plays that are fun to watch. With his athleticism and his creativity he is an exciting guy. And again, he was a highly recruited player.
“So I am excited to see what he can do and see the growth in him.”