How BYU Moves Forward Without Micah Harper At Safety

Aug 21, 2023, 1:47 PM | Updated: 5:29 pm

PROVO, Utah – One of the big questions for BYU as they wind down fall camp is how they will replace Micah Harper at strong safety.

The season-ending injury to the hard-hitting Harper is a big blow for a revamped BYU defense. Harper’s setback is the second season-ending injury for him in three seasons.

Despite losing one of their top defensive playmakers, BYU coach Kalani Sitake is optimistic that players will emerge.

“We have a bunch of guys that can play. That group was already deep from the beginning,” Sitake said. “But you’re going to see a bunch of those guys that probably will see if they can separate themselves between now and then. There’s not a lot of time left … but there’s a lot of talent there. I think there are four or five guys that can definitely replace him. It’s just a matter of who’s going to earn the one and two spots.”

Who could be those guys that see an elevated role due to Harper’s season-long absence?

BYU safety position after the loss of Micah Harper

The first choice could be redshirt sophomore Talan Alfrey. Alfrey started nine games and totaled 41 tackles and an interception last season in his first full year back to action after suffering an Achilles injury in 2021.

He was competing against graduate senior Malik Moore to be the starting free safety early in camp. Now Alfrey could be lining up alongside Moore, the assumed starter at free safety. Alfrey was the first-team strong safety in the first media observation practice after the Harper injury.

Since the injury to Harper took place, Alfrey has taken a team-first approach in his attempt to earn an expanded role in Jay Hill’s defense.

“All of us safeties come out trying to compete every day. As you know, there are only two safety spots on the field at a time,” Alfrey said to KSL Sports. “So out of the 12 of us that are in the safety group, we’re all competing, and everyone has the same goal to contribute to the team and contribute to the team’s success. That’s our goal to help the team win in whichever way we can.”

Position change?

Another option for BYU could be switching Weber State transfer Eddie Heckard over from cornerback to safety. Heckard was on the watch list for the Shrine Bowl 1000 list coming into the season as a potential safety to watch for the next level.

Safety might be where he plays in his pro career when evaluating Heckard’s pro potential. But then there would be a big void at cornerback as BYU looks to be an aggressive man-press team this season.

BYU could turn to JUCO transfer Jayden Dunlap, Weber State transfer Kamden Garrett, or Mory Bamaba if they switch Heckard to safety. Veteran Caleb Christensen could be an option at the nickel spot, a position Heckard also could occupy in this defense.

Another position change worth considering could be Ammon Hannemann. Hannemann switched to linebacker this season. Last year, he was the week-one starter at safety.

Jay Hill said in the spring that he felt Hannemann’s move to linebacker put him at his “home” spot that can best utilize his skill sets.

The rest of the BYU safety position

Other safeties to watch include Chika Ebunoha, Ethan Slade, Utah State transfer Crew Wakley, Preston Rex, and heralded freshman RM Raider Damuni.

Ebunoha is an athlete with a track and field background. He excelled in football and track during his prep career at Marana High School in Tucson, Arizona. His parents have athletic backgrounds as well, playing track and volleyball.

Ebuonha was one of BYU’s gunner’s on special teams last season. They opted only to play him four games to maintain his entire four years of eligibility. He’s got a chance to be a key factor for BYU at safety this season.

Raider Damuni was alongside Ebuonha during last week’s media observation portion in practice with the second unit at safety.

Ethan Slade had a few interceptions during spring practices back in April. The former Orem High DB has been a productive player in camp the past two seasons with the third or scout team defenses.

Preston Rex made a hard tackle on Enoch Nawahine during Saturday’s scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium. He appeared to be running with the third-team defense.

BYU wraps up fall camp officially on Tuesday, then shifts its attention to the season opener against Sam Houston on September 2.

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 in the Big 12 Conference on Twitter/X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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How BYU Moves Forward Without Micah Harper At Safety