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BYU running back Lopini Katoa runs in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Jeff Allred, Deseret News)
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BYU Needs More Help At Running Back For 2019 Season

PROVO, Utah – The ink is dry, the faxes are in, National Signing Day is in the rear view mirror, and most college football teams have their rosters in place. But for the BYU Cougars, there is still work to be done.

The Cougars added 18 athletes in this year’s class, but one position in dire need is running back.

With an offense predicated on the power run game while integrating the fly sweep, having a stable of backs ready to run is vital to the team’s offensive success.

Currently, BYU has seven running backs on the roster – Tyler Allgeier, Sione Finau, Kavika Fonua, Lopini Katoa, Darius McFarland, Kyle Griffitts, and Morgan Pyper. Of those seven backs, only two saw significant production in the 2018 season in Katoa and Allgeier.

Losing Experience For 2019

As a freshman, Katoa finished the 2018 season as BYU’s leading rusher with 423 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite his performance, the Cougars lost the next three leaders in yardage in Squally Canada, Matt Hadley, and Riley Burt. Of the 1,991 yards and 27 touchdowns BYU rushed for last year, that trio combined for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns. In comparison, the players BYU will return for 2019 combined for 867 yards and 13 touchdowns – which is below 50 percent in both categories.

Of the 867 yards and 13 touchdowns returning, quarterback Zach Wilson was responsible for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. Excluding Wilson and Katoa, BYU has just 223 yards and 3 touchdowns, which mainly came by way of Aleva Hifo on the fly sweep.

BYU’s 2018 recruiting class featured three running backs: Luc Andrada – an athlete with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, that primarily played quarterback in high school. Also, walk-ons Masen Wake and Alec Wyble-Meza are on campus. The Cougars will return former Lone Peak standout Jackson McChesney after spending the last two years serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While BYU has numbers in the backfield, those numbers don’t translate to experience at the collegiate level.

With the 2019 class signed, the chances to find a player ready to make an immediate impact is next to zero. The most viable option is every coaches new favorite toy, ‘The NCAA Transfer Portal’.

“Recruiting is not over. There is still some time to see if there’s any more bodies we can add to the mix,” said BYU Head Coach Kalani Sitake on National Signing Day. “We did that last year, we’ll do it again this year, we’ll see who shows up in the next few months between now and august.”

The portal was added prior to the 2018 season and allows players to submit their contact information if they are looking to transfer to a new school.

Potential Options

After the 2018 season, 42 college running backs entered their names in the portal including former BYU Cougar Riley Burt. Of those 42, 15 have committed to a new school. Players who are immediately eligible as graduate transfers include Taj Griffin (Oregon), Eric Swinney (Ole Miss), Kyle Porter (Texas), and Ty’Son Williams (South Carolina).

“Whether you’re a graduate transfer, or an undergrad transfer, you still have to deal with the standard that we have at school,” said Sitake. “If a young man wants to transfer to our school and there is interest on our part, we start right away with academics, we start with the Honor Code, and we start with football.”

BYU has been linked to former Wyoming running back Theo Dawson who was recruited by BYU as a preferred walk-on in the 2016 class. Dawson served an LDS mission before enrolling at Wyoming and just completed his first year.

Ula Tolutau is a name fans have hoped would return to the BYU roster. The Wisconsin transfer rushed for 303 yards and and two touchdowns for the Cougars in 2017 before missing the remainder of the season due to suspension. Tolutau sat out the 2018 season has yet to return to school.

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