After preseason training camp opened Thursday with a spirited practice at the outdoor practice field, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said he is never going to be satisfied with his team’s depth until all 123 players on the roster can be trusted to start football games.
“There are a lot of good players here. That’s a problem I want to have all the time,” he said. “The key is to get them clicking well together so it becomes a machine and we can score as many points as we can on offense and disrupt as much as possible on defense and keep being great … on special teams and return teams. So, that’s the goal. Hopefully we can get it done. We got some work to do, though.”
Of course, the roster can’t include as many as 123 players until fall semester classes are held, per NCAA rules. The roster BYU released Wednesday includes 112 players, and as usual, there are some surprises — both in terms of who’s listed and who’s not.
It was already known that a couple expected contributors in 2021 would not be returning, most notably tight end Hank Tuipulotu, who medically retired, and defensive lineman Seleti Fevaleaki, who entered the transfer portal.
“As for guys who are on the roster but not in camp, they are all dealing with certain things that usually have to deal with health. So they have to get in better shape, or get healthier, or a few of them have to deal with eligibility issues. So that’s how it breaks down. If they are not here, presently, on the roster or in practice, they are dealing with one or two of those things.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake.
Reserve quarterback Rhett Reilly is also in the portal, and Sitake said in June that the walk-on from San Diego was looking at enrolling at a historically Black college or university. But the cousin of former University of Utah standout Trevor Reilly apparently had a change of heart and is still with the team — and still on the roster.
Not on the roster yet are a pair of linemen from Temecula, California, who signed last December — Enoka and Elia Migao. Enoka Migao was signed as a defensive lineman, and his brother, Elia, was signed as an offensive lineman.
“They are still working on some things with eligibility and stuff like that,” Sitake said.
Several players who recently returned from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were announced by BYU on Feb. 3 as “returning signees” who would join the program in 2021 are not yet on the roster: defensive lineman Cade Albright, linebacker Michael Daley, defensive lineman Brooks Maile, defensive lineman Bruce Mitchell and linebacker Fakaosi Nasilai.
Asked specifically by KSLsports.com about the status of Albright and Daley, Sitake said they are probably going to start on scholarship in January.
“So they will probably grayshirt,” Sitake said, which means they will enroll in school and pay their own way fall semester.
“As for guys who are on the roster but not in camp, they are all dealing with certain things that usually have to deal with health,” Sitake said. “So they have to get in better shape, or get healthier, or a few of them have to deal with eligibility issues. So that’s how it breaks down. If they are not here, presently, on the roster or in practice, they are dealing with one or two of those things.”
There were some internet rumblings that receiver Puka Nacua, the prized transfer from the University of Washington, had sustained a setback from a previous ankle injury and might not be 100 percent. However, Nacua and his brother, Utah transfer Samson Nacua, practiced on Thursday, at least during the media viewing portion of practice.
“They bring a lot to our offense — experience, toughness,” said new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick. “Both of them had really good moments today. Good additions to our team.”
Roderick also said that senior receiver Neil Pau’u “has picked up right where he left off last year,” that running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa “looked good” and returned missionary tight end Dallin Holker “looks like he never left.”
Roderick also took some time to praise the defense, which on paper is supposed to be the team’s weakness in 2021.
“We have a really good defense,” he said. “Our defense is good.”
Echoing what Sitake said about good depth throughout the lineup, Roderick said there are “good players” up and down the roster.
“Our depth is better now than any time I have been here,” Roderick said. “Even though the schedule is tougher, we have got good enough players to win those games, but we have to practice every day with that chip on our shoulder that we’ve got something to prove.”
The Nacua brothers are obviously the headliners among newcomers, but Sitake said not to sleep on some of the other guys who weren’t here during spring camp.
For instance, the quarterback room is as crowded as it has ever been with the return of five guys from last year — Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney, Jacob Conover, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Reilly, and the additions of Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan and Utah transfer Nick Billoups, who was a walk-on on The Hill and was moved to safety by the Utes during spring camp.
BYU seemingly has one of its deepest and most talented groups of receivers in program history, but when asked Thursday which position on offense is the deepest, Roderick pointed to the tight end group.
Adding to that depth that includes 12-touchdown maker Isaac Rex, Holker, Carter Wheat, Bentley Hanshaw, Ben Tuipulotu and Lane Lunt is returned missionary Ethan Erickson, who served in Japan.
Two other transfers sure to make an impact are Utah State transfer Jakob Robinson and Oregon State transfer Kaleb Hayes. Both played cornerback at their previous schools and should add depth to an already stellar cornerbacks room.
Another returned missionary expected to make an impact is receiver Chase Roberts, the former American Fork star who served in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Roberts is listed at 6-foot-4, 195-pounds on the roster.
“Right now, we have some positions where we look really good,” Sitake said, “like who is going to run the ball and who is going to catch it.”