For the most part, BYU football coaches are banking on the continuity of their roster this season to get them back to respectability in the world of college football, and their second season in the Big 12.

Last year’s major roster overhaul is a thing of the past, and simply did not work as well as coaches had hoped.

“It is young, but it is also awesome because those guys bring a lot of juice, plus they bring a lot of talent, and a lot of energy. They want to play.”

—  BYU defensive end Tyler Batty on this year's defense

That’s why you won’t see a ton of new acquisitions from the transfer portal in 2024, like there were in 2023. At least 10 new faces joined the Cougars after spring camp concluded last year, many in key positions.

With the transfer portal window having closed Tuesday night, BYU is still out looking for an offensive lineman or two, but plans to ride with the same skill position players it had in 2023, and mostly the same defenders.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some additions to the depth chart to keep an eye on. Several players turned some heads in spring camp, and were mentioned by coaches and veteran players as having chances to make immediate or bigger impacts this fall.

“We have a lot of young guys. I would say it is a very young team overall, and a very young defense,” senior defensive end Tyler Batty said midway through camp. “It is young, but it is also awesome because those guys bring a lot of juice, plus they bring a lot of talent, and a lot of energy. They want to play. And those are the guys we want in our program. They want to come in and contribute and do anything they can and so yeah, it is huge to have those guys in.

This former BYU defender has entered the transfer portal
Analysis: Andy Reid returns to his BYU roots to trade up for Cougars left tackle Kingsley Suamataia

“It is awesome because we do have some leaders who can bring them along in the program. So it is a really good balance,” Batty concluded.

Bottom line is that the program needs an infusion of energy and talent to ensure the 5-7 campaign of 2023 is not repeated any time soon.

“We have to improve everywhere if we are going to compete for the Big 12 title,” defensive coordinator Jay Hill said.

Added offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick: “We did a little bit more (hitting) than usual, but I thought it was necessary. Again, we are not there yet, but we are going in the right direction, I believe.”

Batty believes the Cougars are just a couple pieces away from not only getting back to a bowl game, but contending for a berth in the Big 12 championship game.

“I definitely know that we can hang in the Big 12, right? I know there was a lot of talk about whether or not we would be able to compete,” Batty said. “So looking towards this year, I am excited because yeah, we know what it is like in the Big 12. We know that we belong there and we know that we can play and last season taught us exactly how and where we need to improve to field a successful team this fall.”

As we’ve done the past few years, the Deseret News presents its list of five players who were singled out by coaches as having made significant improvement since the previous season ended. A lot of players helped themselves immensely in March, but these five stand out the most.

Tight end Ryner Swanson

It didn’t take the gem of BYU’s 2024 recruiting class to show what he could do, as the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Swanson made a couple of eye-popping catch-and-runs the first week of spring camp. And he never stopped making plays, proving to be as good as advertised when BYU signed Swanson out of Laguna Beach, California, last winter as a four-star prospect who also had offers from Alabama, Utah and others.

Swanson, who plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after his freshman season this fall, “has a high ceiling,” said new BYU tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride, the former Cougar quarterback who spent 12 years coaching in the NFL.

Swanson joins a talented tight ends room that will look to replace record-setting TE Isaac Rex with the likes of Jackson Bowers and Keanu Hill, who is moving from receiver to tight end and putting on weight to get there.

Swanson already has excellent size and speed for a tight end.

“I have the goal to play, just like every freshman, and make an impact before my mission,” Swanson said.

Safety Tommy Prassas

When this 6-foot-2, 190-pound prospect from Chandler, Arizona, committed to BYU last summer, it was met with very little fanfare. Little was known about the hard-hitting safety from Basha High.

When the early signing period rolled around in December, defensive coordinator Hill mentioned Prassas as a player who could make an immediate impact. Few people took notice back then, as BYU also signed cornerback Therrian Alexander III, edge rusher Siosefa Brown, cornerback Jonathan Kabeya, defensive lineman Dallin Johnson, defensive end Kini Fonohema and, later, Bountiful safety Faletau Satuala.

Prassas graduated early from the same high school that produced safety Micah Harper, and almost immediately starting making big plays in spring camp.

Both Hill, who coaches the safeties, and Sitake mentioned Prassas’ plays during spring camp.

“I can tell you that Tommy Prassas is going to be a really good player,” Sitake said after a scrimmage on March 16. “From what I am seeing, in the stuff that he did today, he has got all the qualities of being a great free safety. So not to put a lot of pressure on him right now — he’s also learning quite a bit from all those other guys — but he’s doing a great job.”

Running back Pokaiaua Haunga

Returning running backs LJ Martin and Miles Davis were featured early in spring camp, but as the practices wore on more and more was seen of Haunga, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from Timpview High who was a member of BYU’s 2023 signing class. Haunga was the No. 6 overall prospect in Utah when he signed with the intention of going on a church mission before enrolling.

That didn’t pan out, and Haunga greyshirted last season. He’s probably the biggest reason why coaches didn’t look to the transfer portal for a replacement for Aidan Robbins, who turned pro last December. They believe Haunga can be that guy.

“He has looked really good so far,” Roderick said of Haunga. “I think that running backs group is really solid. He’s going to be able to help us.”

Martin, who will be RB1, even mentioned Haunga’s impact midway through camp, saying BYU’s defenders were having a “tough time” tackling the freshman.

Nose tackle Danny Saili

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake was singing Saili’s praises the first week of spring camp, as the junior college transfer made an instant impact. However, on Tuesday the 6-foot-3, 370-pounder entered the transfer portal. Coaches were hoping that Saili would bring much-needed size and strength to BYU’s interior line.

Now, they have to re-recruit the big guy and try to persuade him to stay. That won’t be an easy task.


Saili played at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College and originally committed to Big 12 rival Texas Tech before flipping to BYU a couple days prior to the December early signing period. He also had offers from Arizona, Miami and Oklahoma, among others.

Offensive lineman Caleb Etienne

Etienne isn’t a newcomer like the aforementioned, having been in and out of the starting lineup last season upon transferring to BYU from Oklahoma State. But by all accounts, the 6-foot-8, 330-pound senior is a changed man.

He’s lost a few pounds, but also added some drive and determination under the direction of new OL coach TJ Woods.

“I’ve liked the way that Caleb has rededicated himself to getting faster and stronger,” Sitake said before the BYU alumni game. “He’s really been locked in on improving his technique.”

BYU offensive lineman Caleb Etienne in action during game against Arkansas during 2013 season. | BYU Photo
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