Facebook Twitter

‘We have a lot of really good players there’: BYU linebackers have impressed through three weeks of spring practices

While the starting quarterback spot remains the most unsettled position on the Cougars’ team, Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili and Max Tooley have emerged as the probable starting linebackers

SHARE ‘We have a lot of really good players there’: BYU linebackers have impressed through three weeks of spring practices
merlin_482953.jpg

Corner Canyon High’s Josh Wilson smiles after signing his national letter of intent in Draper, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. Wilson signed with BYU and has had a strong spring camp, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said on Monday, March 22, 2021. Wilson adds depth to an outstanding group of linebackers in Provo.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As BYU’s football team moves into the final week of spring practices, thestarting quarterback competition is far from settled, coach Kalani Sitake said Monday night in a Zoom meeting with reporters.

No surprise there.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said last week that the derby pitting Baylor Romney, Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters will probably extend well into preseason training camp in August. Both coaches have said they will try to “whittle down” the field of candidates before spring camp ends Friday with a public practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and Sitake seemed to indicate that it has moved in that direction when he referred to the competition as “those three” who will see the most reps at the camp-ending practice.

“I feel good about the talent, but we are still figuring out the quarterback situation. That one is not going to be figured out by the end of this week. … I think we will need to get more reps to the guys who will compete for it and that will happen probably at the end of this week.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

“I feel good about the talent, but we are still figuring out the quarterback situation,” Sitake said. “That one is not going to be figured out by the end of this week. … I think we will need to get more reps to the guys who will compete for it and that will happen probably at the end of this week.”

Who the odd man out could be is unclear.

The head coach reiterated that those attending the final practice at LES — tickets are $10 — will be disappointed if they show up expecting a full-on spring game.

“It is going to be more like another practice,” he said. “We will try to do some 11-on-11 stuff during the practice, but we are not going to do a spring game type of deal. We are just trying to keep our guys healthy, and with our numbers being a little bit down, I think that is probably the right approach to take.”

One position where the Cougars’ numbers aren’t down is linebacker, even with the departures of standouts Isaiah Kaufusi and Kavika Fonua. Sitake said the position is the “most settled” of any, which has been nice because the unit has a new coach in Kevin Clune, hired in February. Ed Lamb, who coached the linebackers in 2020, has moved back to coach the safeties, which is his specialty.

“I think we have not just a good two-deep (at linebacker), but a good three-deep, and we have a lot of really good players there,” Sitake said.

The coach said “if you are looking at the (starting) three,” third-year sophomores Payton Wilgar, Max Tooley and Keenan Pili picked up the most experience the past two years and are at the top of the depth chart.

“Those three I think have tons of experience under their belt, and they have had a lot of game-time plays in a lot of different places, a lot of different positions,” he said. “So that is really settled in.”

Sitake said he even feels good about the second- and third-stringers at linebacker, guys such as second-year freshmen Ben Bywater and Josh Wilson and sophomores Drew Jensen and Jackson Kaufusi.

“And then some of the guys that we are going to add to it that are home from their missions and guys that are still coming home this summer are going to make it a really deep position for us,” he said.

Although BYU’s most updated roster includes 15 linebackers, some players who are listed as LBs such as Chaz Ah You (safety) and Pepe Tanuvasa (defensive end) will probably play elsewhere.

Sitake__Kalani_21FTB_PRAC_3_18_.jpg

BYU head coach Kalani Sikake looks on during spring practice session on March 18, 2021. Sitake has been particularly pleased with the play of his linebacking corps during the spring.

BYU Photo

Freshman Faka’osi Nasilai is listed as a running back and a linebacker.

Sitake said Josh Wilson, younger brother of NFL-bound quarterback Zach Wilson, is one of the linebackers “doing himself favors” in spring camp and moving up the depth chart.

Appearing at the same Zoom meeting moments later, the younger Wilson said he has mostly been playing the middle linebacker position (Mike linebacker) but has learned all three positions “so if anyone goes down, I can jump in and play those other spots, too.”

Checking in at 215 pounds, Josh Wilson is still trying to get bigger and stronger and is learning all he can from Clune and the aforementioned first-stringers, Wilgar, Tooley and Pili.

“They are all really good and it is good for me to just sit back and learn from those guys,” Wilson said. “They are all studs, and they love helping out. The linebacking corps is really strong. I would say the entire three deep, everyone trusts them. When they go in, you can’t tell the difference.”

Regarding players who have been seriously injured, Sitake only mentioned cornerback Micah Harper, a second-year freshman from Chandler, Arizona, who started in 11 games last year. Harper sustained an undisclosed injury in practice last week that required surgery.

“The plan would be to (have him) make a comeback and then we will definitely utilize the four games that we will be able to redshirt him with (in the fall),” Sitake said. “We know we are going to use the four games toward the end of the year, but if he comes along as well as we anticipate, then maybe there is just a chance he will play right away.”