COUGAR TRACKS

What Kalani Sitake Wants BYU Football To Accomplish During Spring Ball

Feb 23, 2022, 2:31 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm
BYU Football - Kalani Sitake...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake watches during an extra point attempt as the Cougars and the Idaho State Bengals play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake is entering his seventh season leading his alma mater. During the early part of Sitake’s tenure, it was a roller coaster with some highs and some lows that looked to have him on the hot seat.

That all has changed over the past two seasons. In 2020, BYU emerged as a national storyline in a strange, COVID-impacted season, reeling off 11 wins against anyone they could play. Then last year, Sitake’s team proved they weren’t a one-hit-wonder as they popped off a 10-win season while posting a 6-1 mark against Power Five teams, including a dominant victory over rival Utah.

After having his name linked to some notable jobs on the west coast —most notably Oregon— BYU locked up Sitake to what they deem an “unprecedented” contract extension. The extension signals that Sitake will be the face of BYU football as they transition into a new era as a Power Five program in the Big 12 Conference.

For the past two years, life has been good for Sitake and BYU football. But no one around BYU’s football offices would claim this recent success is a coronation. Instead, the feelings are that they want to keep building a program that is contending for Big 12 championships and an annual player in the college football landscape.

Functioning at a high level

The next opportunity for Sitake to continue building up his program is during spring practices for the 2022 season, which start on Monday, February 28, and span the next five weeks before a much-needed break in April.

“We need to make sure that we’re functioning at a high level, meaning that we’re really efficient with our offense, defense, and special teams,” Sitake said to KSL Sports. “So that means knowing the plays, knowing all the details of the plays –I’m talking about the experienced players–, getting healthy, finding ways to lead and to teach others.”

BYU brings back a lot of experience to this year’s team. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, BYU has the second-most returning production in college football this season. Sitake’s program has always been an opportunity for upperclassmen to establish themselves as leaders. Zach Wilson did that in the spring of 2019 when he was rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Experienced BYU football players can become leaders

A big boost to the experience returning in 2022 is at quarterback. Jaren Hall returns now as a seasoned veteran. The former Maple Mountain High product still navigated his share of injuries that kept him sidelined last season. Still, Hall’s decision-making was top shelf, and his comfort level within Aaron Roderick’s quarterback-friendly scheme has BYU dreaming even bigger things are in store on offense this fall.

The wide receiver room is as deep as it has ever been for BYU, with Gunner Romney deciding to run it back for his fifth and final season in Provo.

In front of Hall will be an offensive line that Sitake dreamed of having led by potential future NFL draft picks in Blake Freeland at tackle and Clark Barrington at guard in the roller coaster years of his BYU head coaching tenure.

“There are a lot of guys that have proven themselves and played a lot of games and have tons of experience,” said Sitake. “I need them to be great leaders and great teachers to the young guys. But I also need them to make sure they’re tuned up and polished still. A lot of that has to do with the little details and teaching. There are so many different parts of the game of football that could really help them, even though they’ve had tons of experience. But I don’t know if it really means getting out there and pounding their helmet into somebody else. There are other guys that need to do that right now.

Players fighting for a spot

Those other guys are typically the underclassmen in the program. BYU has a logjam of numbers in the program, so spring will serve as a chance for a high level of competition to prove to coaches that they can be one of the “123 starters” that Sitake is looking to have each season.

“There’s a lot of young guys that are kind of fighting for a spot to play and a roster spot, to be honest with you,” Sitake said. “They have to prove themselves that they can match their potential and that they have the grit and the work ethic to get it done. So this is a time where we can see it out and see them play 11-on-11 football.”

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 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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