Five Questions For BYU Football As Players Report To Camp

Jul 30, 2019, 2:42 PM | Updated: 9:12 pm
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake watches the clock in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, ...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake watches the clock in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (Jeff Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeff Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – We’ve made it.  Football season is here.  The 2019 BYU football season unofficially kicks off Tuesday as players report to camp.

2019 looks to be a year that shows progress in year four under head coach Kalani Sitake.  But questions still remain for a team that is looking to build off of a season that brought respectability back to the program last year.

Here are five I have as camp opens up.

How long will it take for Zach Wilson to feel 100 percent?

Back in June, Kalani Sitake said on Cougar Sports Saturday on KSL Newsradio that he expected quarterback Zach Wilson to take a majority of the reps in fall camp practices.  We’ve arrived at camp and now we will wait to see how Wilson fares after recovering from a shoulder surgery he had earlier this year.

Wilson has viewed this time away from the practice fields as an opportunity to finetune his game from the mental side.  BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and former BYU great John Beck have all referred to Wilson as a “football junkie,” but will he physically be able to hit the ground running and continue his excellent play that we saw last season?

We will soon find out.  If BYU has any hopes of getting an eight-win season and shocking the world, they need Zach Wilson to be healthy and to be really good early in the season.

Who emerges as the No. 1 running back?

Heading into fall camp, all indications would point to sophomore Lopini Katoa being BYU’s top running back.  Katoa has put in a lot of work with former BYU great Jamal Willis at Cutback Elite this off-season.  The former American Fork High School standout was BYU’s leading rusher last season and led the team in touchdown runs with eight.  Katoa’s versatility will be a huge asset towards him winning the job as the offense will look to target the running backs in the passing game this season.

South Carolina grad transfer Ty’Son Williams is the top candidate to potentially beat out Katoa, but he will have to dominate in camp in order for him to beat out Katoa who had a very productive spring in his limited reps.

Rice grad transfer Emmanuel Esukpa, preferred walk-on Tyler Allgeier, Kavika Fonua (unless he moves to linebacker, see note below), and returned missionary Jackson McChesney are intriguing options that offer competitive depth to a position that sorely needed depth a season ago.

Who will be the starting middle linebacker?

This is an interesting position battle and linebackers coach Ed Lamb could go in a variety of ways with this spot.  Jackson Kaufusi saw the majority of first-team reps in spring practices at mike linebacker this past March.  The younger brother to Isaiah Kaufusi, Jackson is an excellent athlete but he didn’t emerge as a clear-cut starter out of spring ball.

Other options include Max Tooley who moves from the boundary linebacker spot to the inside.  Tooley was a heralded recruit out of Bountiful High School in the class of 2016.  He might have the highest ceiling out of these potential starters.  The sleeper in the group is Payton Wilgar out of Dixie High School.  Wilgar was in the transfer portal this past spring and didn’t go through practices, but he ended up staying at BYU after receiving a scholarship from the coaching staff.

Other possibilities include having Isaiah Kaufusi line up at middle linebacker and have Chaz Ah You, a returned missionary, who was one of the stars of spring ball line up at the boundary linebacker position on the outside with Zayne Anderson at the flash linebacker spot.  Also, running back Kavika Fonua could see a position change back to linebacker.  In 2016, Fonua had 26 tackles as an outside linebacker.

How will the cornerback depth shape out?

There were high hopes for junior college transfer Eric Ellison to become a factor right away in the two-deep, but Ellison was five credits short of getting his associates degree and now he will redshirt this season while taking classes at Mt. San Jacinto College.  Senior Dayan Ghanwoloku is a likely fixture at the cornerback spot this season and D’Angelo Mandell could be the other starter.  The player that we need clarity on is senior Chris Wilcox.  Wilcox is the best NFL Draft prospect in the secondary and if he’s healthy, BYU will suddenly have a lot of options and competitive depth to work with.

Incoming junior college transfer Dmitri Gallow from the same JUCO as Ellison, Mt. San Jacinto College, is enrolled and has two years to play two.  He will have the opportunity to provide an immediate impact.

A pair of wide receivers in true freshmen Javelle Brown and Luc Andrada could switch over to cornerback if the coaching staff believes they need more bodies at cornerback.

Who will be the surprise(s) of fall camp?

Here at Cougar Tracks, we go next level with our content.  So here are some players that no one is discussing that could be head turners during fall camp.  Running back Alec “Fitz” Wyble-Meza is someone I’m interested to see how he fares in camp.  There would appear to be opportunities to move up BYU’s running back depth chart.  Wyble-Meza ran for over 1,000 yards last year at Scottsdale Community College a season ago.  Wyble-Meza was a lightly recruited player and committed to the Cougars as a preferred walk-on.

On the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye out for Atunaisa Mahe.  Mahe redshirted last season due to a season-ending injury during fall camp but he returned this past spring and was seeing significant action with the second-team defense.  BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki believes his defensive line goes three-deep with quality athletes that can play in games.  Guys such as Atunaisa Mahe who check-in at 6-1, 307 pounds, are the individuals making that leap forward that give BYU’s defensive staff confidence regarding their defensive line.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Five Questions For BYU Football As Players Report To Camp