Breaking Down BYU Football’s Offensive Line For 2021 Season
PROVO, Utah – BYU football experienced a banner year last fall, putting together an 11-win season with an explosive offense that Cougar fans have been craving for years.
The foundation of that success was in the trenches along the offensive line. A Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll unit, BYU’s offensive line produced an NFL draft pick –the first time since 2005— and had two undrafted free agents.
Last year’s offensive line only allowed 12 sacks in a season that saw the Cougars play a full 12 games.
The big question now, what’s the follow-up act?
Longtime offensive line coach Darrell Funk steps in as the new head man of the group, replacing Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos, who left for Baylor. Funk brings a wealth of experience, something offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick viewed as a top priority when replacing Grimes and Mateos.
Funk inherits a room with eight players who played in snaps last season in a wide zone-blocking scheme. Of those eight players, four have started games last season.
Let’s dive deeper into BYU’s offensive line unit for the upcoming 2021 season.
Key Players at Offensive Line
James Empey, Center
Through the first two years of James Empey’s career, he was a mainstay at the center spot, starting in all 26 games. Last year, Empey battled some injuries causing him to miss four games, including the Boca Raton Bowl win over UCF.
Now healthy, Empey will be the leader of the offensive line. When Darrell Funk was hired, he was impressed with how Empey, a former Freshman All-American, came to him and had a long list of things he wanted to improve in his game.
Empey is already viewed as one of the best centers BYU has ever had; if he stays healthy this year, he has the potential to be the best center the program has ever produced. While also improving his NFL draft stock in the process.
Blake Freeland, Left Tackle
Blake Freeland is about to emerge as one of the faces of the BYU football program this fall. Freeland has the task of filling the shoes of consensus All-American Brady Christensen at left tackle. At 6-foot-8, 300-pounds, the athletic Freeland appears up for the task.
During the off-season, Freeland participated in track & field at BYU competing in shot put.
Through two seasons, Freeland already has 15 starts under his belt, and many believe the best is still yet to come for the former Herriman High athlete. Once a quarterback in high school, Freeland is still learning the offensive line position. He’s switching over from the right side to the left this year, but the potential is endless for one of the freakiest athletes in BYU’s program.
Clark Barrington, Guard
Barrington is a quiet, kind guy off the field. But on the field, he flips a switch and puts together some highlight-worthy blocks. Watch Barrington against an ill-prepared Navy team last year to get a refresher on Barrington’s potential. Or watch the hole he created for Tyler Allgeier in a 42-yard TD run against Coastal Carolina.
That loss at Coastal was Barrington’s last appearance of the season as he suffered a lower leg injury around his left foot. Barrington is healthy now, ready for fall camp.
At 6-foot-6, 302-pounds, Barrington has the potential to follow in the steps of Brady Christensen as an under-the-radar two-star recruit to NFL draft pick if he continues to progress.
Stepping into spotlight roles
Connor Pay, Guard
Similar to Tristen Hoge the past few seasons, Pay is talented enough to play nearly any position along the offensive line. Last season in the Boca Raton Bowl win, Pay was an offensive MVP by the coaching staff for his performance, stepping in at a moment’s notice to relieve an injured Joe Tukuafu. Without Grimes and Mateos on the sideline, BYU had no offensive line coaches and Pay kept the offense humming the elite levels it showed all of last year.
Last season, Pay appeared in seven games and saw time at right guard, left guard, and the aforementioned center spot. Pay gained all of that valuable experience and still has five years to play four in his BYU career.
He enters fall camp this season as the projected starting right guard.
Harris LaChance, Tackle
Once a Utah State signee out of Herriman High School, LaChance joined the BYU football program in 2018 and has already appeared in 21 games as a reserve offensive tackle. Now the 6-foot-8 LaChance steps into a spotlight role at right tackle, where he is the projected starter entering camp.
BYU Football Newcomers at O-Line
Campbell Barrington, Freshman
The younger brother to Clark, Campbell was the higher-rated recruit coming out of high school. Barrington greyshirted last year while he packed on the pounds after returning home from a mission that saw him lose a lot of weight.
Donovan Hanna, Freshman
Hanna played at tight end for Max Hall at American Leadership Academy. He returned home from his mission in 2019. Hanna switched to the offensive line room this past January.
Dylan Rollins, Freshman
Rollins is one of the few class of 2021 signees that will compete this season. He arrived on campus on June 11th to be part of the summer conditioning program on campus. Rollins was the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Montana this past academic year.
Elia Migao, Freshman
A heralded recruit in the class of 2021, Migao had a host of offers from Power 5 programs during his prep career at Chaparral High School. At 6-foot-3, 320-pounds, he’s got a frame that should immediately bring competitive depth into the offensive line room. But, right now, he’s only 17, will turn 18 years old before BYU lines up against Arizona in Las Vegas.
Tysen Lewis, Freshman
Lewis was a member of the 2018 recruiting class. He participated in his first practices at BYU this past spring after greyshirting last season.
Mufi Hill-Hunt, Grad Transfer
Former Taylorsville High standout Mufi Hill-Hunt is wrapping up his college career at BYU. Hill-Hunt originally signed with Michigan State then transferred to Utah, dabbling on both the offense and defense. Here at BYU, he’s competing along the offensive line.
Brock Gunderson, Freshman
Gunderson signed with BYU in 2019. He returned home from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints earlier this month.
Tyler Little, Freshman
Little committed and signed to play for BYU this week. He played basketball in high school. After serving a Latter-day Saint mission, Little enrolled at Butte College.
Cade Parrish, Sophomore
Once an Arizona commit, Parrish played at Snow College this past spring. He announced a commitment to BYU earlier this month and will compete at either guard or tackle.
Depth Chart entering Fall Camp
First String: Blake Freeland, Left Tackle; Clark Barrington, Left Guard; James Empey, Center; Connor Pay, Right Guard; Harris LaChance, Right Tackle
Second String: Keanu Saleapaga; Seth Willis; Joe Tukuafu; Campbell Barrington; Brayden Keim
BYU Football 2021 Offensive Line Personnel
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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