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How Does BYU’s Depth At Running Back Look Without Devonta’e Henry-Cole?

BYU running backs (from L to R) Jackson McChesney, Lopini Katoa, Tyler Allgeier. Photos courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

PROVO, Utah – With Utah transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole released from his Letter of Intent and now believed to be headed to Utah State, how does the BYU running back room look for the 2020 season?

Henry-Cole is a loss for BYU as he was believed to be a guy that “will add some acceleration and speed in our backfield that will give us something a little bit different there,” according to BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

Devonta'e Henry-Cole is moving from BYU to Utah State

BYU insider Mitch Harper, Utah insider Trevor Allen, and Utah State insider Matt Glade of KSL 5-TV discuss former Utah RB Devonta'e Henry-Cole heading to Utah State.

Posted by KSL Sports on Monday, July 20, 2020

So how do the Cougars replace Henry-Cole? Well, for starters the guys that are already in the program and have taken reps in practices. Henry-Cole never took a snap in a practice at BYU, so it’s hard to say what his impact would have been. But the depth is definitely impacted.

First-year running backs coach Harvey Unga inherits a group that he has a lot of familiarity with already as a graduate assistant the past two years. Here’s a rundown of BYU’s running back personnel without Henry-Cole in 2020.

BYU’s projected starting running back

* = indicates redshirt season has been used

Lopini Katoa – Junior*

For the second year in a row, Katoa appears on the preseason Doak Walker Award Watch List. Katoa has shown to be a versatile back during his two seasons. Kalani Sitake called him a “Matt Bellini-type” last year because of Katoa’s ability to not only run but catch passes out of the backfield. Last year Katoa had 24 catches for 288 yards.

Now with Henry-Cole gone to play for Utah State, all eyes will be on Katoa to potentially rise up and become the Cougars feature running back. Through two seasons, Katoa has rushed for 781 yards and has been a touchdown machine finding the endzone as a rusher 12 times.

Returning lettermen with game experience

Due to a significant number of injuries at running back last year, BYU turned to a number of players in the backfield. Digging into the depth created opportunities for a number of players to earn playing time. Those players return in 2020.

Sione Finau – Sophomore*

Finau was one of the pleasant surprises from the 2019 season. His first career start was in BYU’s upset win over undefeated Boise State. Finau is still recovering from a season-ending ACL injury he suffered in practice last November. During the off-season, Finau trained with former Utah and NFL running back Matt Asiata. If healthy, Finau is talented enough to be BYU’s full-time starter. Adding weight will continue to be a priority for Finau who is on the smaller side at 185-pounds.

Tyler Allgeier – Sophomore*

The last two years BYU has had to call upon a linebacker to play late in the season at running back. In 2018 it was Matt Hadley and last year it was Tyler Allgeier. It was a welcomed switch back for Allgeier who had a decorated prep career rushing for 2,470 yards as a senior at Kaiser High School in the Fontana, California area.

Allgeier’s best performance last season as a running back came in the Hawaii Bowl where he rushed for 77 yards on eight carries. He’s still listed as a running back/linebacker but with DHC gone and BYU’s history digging into their depth, Allgeier likely stays at RB.

Jackson McChesney – Redshirt-Freshman*

In a redshirt season, McChesney set the freshman record for most rushing yards in a game. Not bad for a guy who only saw time in three games last year. McChesney’s 228 rushing yards against UMass was the sixth most by any BYU running back in a game in program history. But after that dominating performance against a horrid UMass team, McChesney didn’t play in the loss against San Diego State and saw only a handful of snaps against Hawaii. With another year in the offense, does McChesney take a step forward? He’s got the speed and talent to make contributions this fall.

Linebacker who could switch to RB full-time

As I mentioned earlier, the last two seasons have seen the linebacker room give the BYU offense a running back. Will it happen a third consecutive year? Very possible as redshirt sophomore Jackson Kaufusi took reps throughout the six spring practices in March at running back.

BYU linebackers coach Ed Lamb said in an interview with KSL Sports last month that it’s “still to be determined” on where Kaufusi will play this fall.

Last year, Kaufusi had 21 tackles and one interception at linebacker.

Coming out of Brighton High School, Kaufusi was an “athlete” prospect as he excelled on both sides of the ball in high school.

True Freshman

Bruce Garrett

Taxarkana, Texas native Bruce Garrett was a showstopper in Texas High School football circles the past two years. Last season, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Garrett helped lead Pleasant Grove High School to a Texas state title.

Garrett racked up 2,800 rushing yards in the final two years of his high school career at Pleasant Grove. A member of the 2020 recruiting class, Garrett signed with BYU last December.

Help from JUCO ranks?

Cerritos College running back Hinckley Ropati committed to BYU earlier this month and was expected to enroll in January. Now Ropati is working to enroll this fall and compete in BYU’s backfield in 2020.

Ropati, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has three years of eligibility remaining. Last season, he rushed for 647 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first year back from serving a Latter-day Saint mission.

The rest of the Running Backs

Kuj Tapusoa – Senior*

Returns after one year away while in the NCAA Transfer Portal. Could see a role as a fullback.

Chase Wester – Junior

Walk-on running back from Georgia who earned Scout team offensive player of the week last year leading up to Boise State game.

Theo Dawson – Sophomore*

Transfer from Wyoming sat out last season. Participated in spring practices this past March.

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

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