BYU Football Safety Position Analysis For 2023 Season

May 18, 2023, 1:00 PM

BYU Football, Micah Harper, Safety Position...

One of the top players in the safety unit for BYU football in 2023 is Micah Harper. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – One of the underrated aspects of Jay Hill joining the BYU football staff is that he will also be coaching the safety position.

Along with his duties as associate head coach and defensive coordinator, Hill oversees the position he thrived at when he was a player at Utah.

Hill inherits a group that features two proven commodities at the top of his depth chart. Plus, a wave of young underclassmen looking to establish themselves within the program.

Here’s a breakdown of the BYU football safety position heading into the 2023 season.

Personnel snapshot

Gone from the 2022 roster: Hayden Livingston (Graduate), Matthew Criddle (Graduate), George Udo (Charlotte), Dean Jones (Southern Utah), Nathaniel Gillis (Northern Colorado), Carter Krupp

Returning: Malik Moore (Grad Sr.), Micah Harper (Soph.), Talan Alfrey (Soph.), Ethan Slade (Soph.), Preston Rex (RS-Fr.), Chika Ebunoha (RS-Fr.)

Position Changes: Tanner Wall (WR to S), Ammon Hanneman (switched to LB)

Newcomers: Crew Wakley (Utah State), Raider Damuni (RM), Ty Burke (RM), Petey Tuipulotu (RM)

Micah Harper/Malik Moore Tandem

Jay Hill shouldn’t have difficulty deciding who his starting safeties will be this fall. Graduate senior Malik Moore and fourth-year sophomore Micah Harper are the two headliners of this position group.

Despite both players being veterans around the BYU program, the talented tandem hasn’t had many snaps on the field together.

Three years ago, Harper was a freshman excelling at cornerback. Then he made the switch in 2021 but suffered an ACL injury.

Last year, Harper was slowed down by an ankle injury in fall camp that carried over into the early part of games last season. Then, just as Harper was getting back to 100%, Moore then suffered a broken hand injury.

Moore had the option to play with a cast on his hand but opted to sit out the remainder of the season and use his redshirt. It was smart as BYU will have Moore and Harper leading the way.

Moore likes the potential of what he and Harper could accomplish from the safety spot this season.

“I think it’s exciting,” Moore said to KSL Sports. “We’re both really smart players and I think we both have a different play style. I haven’t been known as a big hitter; I’ve been known as a rangy safety, making plays. But he’s been known as a good hitter, a true strong safety. I think having a true strong and a true free in the back is going to be good.”

Harper earned Freshman All-American recognition for his play last season. He finished with 62 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Both players are talented enough to earn opportunities in the NFL after their careers at BYU are over. In addition, Harper can potentially become one of the best safeties BYU has produced in the 21st century.

If these two stay healthy, the backend of the defense should be a strength.

Competition for backup spots

The competition to round out the depth chart at safety should be fun to watch in fall camp. An early favorite to be in the second unit is Talan Alfrey. Alfrey started nine games last year in his first full season back from an ACL injury suffered in 2021.

Along with Alfrey, keep an eye on preferred walk-on Chika Ebunoha. A native of Tucson, Arizona, Ebunoha made a name for himself last year as one of the top special team’s gunners. He’s a hard hitter, Kalani Sitake pointed out, as a player standing out in spring practices.

Preston Rex enters his redshirt freshman season with the program. He’s a young player but, if given the opportunity, has the talent to contribute if called upon. Rex earned a lot of second and third-team reps during spring practices.

Returned missionaries to watch

As the years go by, and with the transfer portal in the mix, it’s becoming more difficult for returned missionaries to make an impact in their first season back. But BYU’s safety unit has two players worth monitoring this fall.

Former Timpview star Raider Damuni completed his first spring practice after being committed to BYU since he was in eighth grade. Damuni was greeted by Jay Hill at Salt Lake City Airport when he returned home from his Latter-day Saint mission in December. That highlights what Damuni means to this BYU team in the future.

During spring practice, Damuni showed flashes of his playmaking ability. But it’s a process for RMs when working their way back from no football activities for two years. An example of that was during one of the practices in week four of spring ball, Damuni was off to the sideline riding an exercise bike.

Once Damuni learns the defense and finds his footing, he has star potential in his future at BYU.

The other returned missionary is Ty Burke. Burke was a do-it-all star for Syracuse High. He signed with BYU in the 2020 recruiting class. During his prep career, he suffered a devastating leg in his junior year. It was one of the main reasons his recruiting attention was light.

Burke returned for his senior year and shined at safety and as a receiver for Syracuse. It will take time, but Burke reminds me of an Austin Lee type of player for BYU in the future.

Rest of the safeties for BYU football in 2023

Walk-on Tanner Wall switched over from wide receiver to the safety position. BYU coach Kalani Sitake praised Wall during spring practices for his play. Wall is a former all-state athlete from Virginia. He has been part of the program since the 2021 season.

Ethan Slade has been a player that has made plays over the past few years in practices. Two years ago, he had two interceptions in a fall camp practice. He was a standout on a loaded Orem High team leading the state of Utah in interceptions.

Petey Tuipulotu was part of the BYU football program in the 2020 season. So he has a year of college experience already under his belt, yet he still has a full slate of eligibility remaining, with five years to play four.

Crew Wakley joined BYU as a walk-on out of the transfer portal this past off-season. He was previously at Utah State. Wakley is a good athlete. During his prep career, Wakley was a 5A First-Team quarterback at Jordan High School.

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Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football Safety Position Analysis For 2023 Season