BYU continues spring football on Wednesday


PROVO, Utah – BYU football continued its fourth week of spring practices this week, moving outside for practices Tuesday and Wednesday in prep for being in the stadium for a scrimmage style practice on Friday.

The Cougars will hold an open scrimmage on Friday at 3 p.m., followed by the Alumni Game at 5 p.m. Read more about Friday's event. 

Following Wednesday's practice session, head coach Kalani Sitake, special teams coordinator and defensive ends coach Kelly Poppinga and wide receiver Kody Epps spoke to members of the media. Read select quotes below. 

Head Coach Kalani Sitake
On Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices
“We had a good day today. We decided to go in helmets and no pads. Yesterday we scrimmaged 95 live plays and have some really good film from that. Other than Kedon [Slovis], the quarterbacks went live yesterday as well. Overall, I thought the defense and offense had a good back-and-forth. I thought the defense made a good step forward compared to earlier in spring. I feel good about where we’re headed right now.”

On Friday’s open practice and alumni game
“It’s going to be more of a practice than a true scrimmage. We’ll have some live work as well if the weather permits. The key is to get the fans out there so they can get to see our guys and for us to support our alumni. Whether they played under LaVell [Edwards], [Gary] Crowton, Bronco [Mendenhall] or myself, it’s great to get them back together. We should probably do it more often. I challenge our staff to get more alumni events going. It doesn’t always have to be a touch or flag football game. We’ll definitely need all of the interaction and support from our fans and alumni as we head into the Big 12.”

On the kicking game
“The competition is strong. I don’t think any of them have set themselves apart from the rest, except for the punter [Ryan Rehkow] and he has his younger brother [Landon] chasing him as the backup punter too. In terms of placekicking, it’s going to be a battle between Matthias [Dunn], Will [Ferrin] and Justen [Smith]. We’ll name a starter when one of them emerges.”

On underclassmen who have impressed in spring
“The linebackers have taken advantage of Max [Tooley] and Ben [Bywater] being out right now. Ace Kaufusi and Maika Kaufusi are some of those. Isaiah Glasker is playing well too. I like what I’m seeing from Chika [Ebunoha] and Tanner Wall at safety. There’s a number of younger guys who are adding depth and competing for playing time.”

On Big 12 membership
“I’ve been very impressed with the Big 12. I’ve had opportunities to meet a lot of their people. I met with their vice president last week. We were able to sit down and talk about a lot of things. I enjoyed that opportunity to learn more about the conference and its expectations. I’m excited with the direction they are headed. I like the leadership we’re seeing from all angles, and I enjoy being a partner with them.”

Special Teams Coordinator Kelly Poppinga
On the progress of the special teams group
“They’re coming along. It’s a work in progress for sure, but I know there’s a lot of buy-in right now with the guys, which is great. I feel like we have some returners that we haven’t had in the past, and I like Hobbs Nyberg a lot at punt returner. We have a couple of kick return guys that I think are going to emerge that I’m excited about. In the kicking game, obviously Ryan [Rehkow] has a ton of experience there. Landon [Rehkow] has come along really well as his backup and heir apparent that’s looking really good as well.

On a couple of guys that will be game-changers:
Hinckley Ropati can be a pretty dynamic dude. I’ve always liked running backs [returning kicks] back there. If you guys think back to Adam Hine, he was pretty dynamic and I kind of look at Ropati in the same way.”

On this developing group of linebackers
“With guys I’ve had in the past, they’re versatile and explosive guys that can do a lot of different things. That includes not just rushing the passer, but also being able to set the edge in the run game and drop into coverage. I think we’ve got three or four guys right now that can do all that and another three or four guys that need to develop that. We’re going in the right direction.”

On how things are going for the kicking game
“Today was the first day we’ve missed a kick in three days, so I’m very encouraged by that. It’s turned into a really good competition and I think we have three really good guys that are competing for the job right now. I told the kickers that the job is open and we’ll name a starter the last week going into the first game.”

On the transition of returning to coach at BYU
“It feels pretty normal compared to what I’ve had in the past, but in terms of philosophy, I’ve learned different schemes. It’s been fun for me just being around Coach Hill and being able to learn how he does things and the way he likes to call things. I’ve been able to learn and grow in learning a new scheme. The way that Kalani does things is completely different from anything I’ve done before, and it’s been good for me to learn that way as the other ways have been very similar. This year is a very different philosophy and structure for me. Everybody has a different culture, and when you believe in your culture, it gives you your best success. It’s worked pretty dang good for [Kalani] so far.”

Wide receiver Kody Epps
On this week of spring practice
“This is the fun time of spring ball. We have fans coming out for the alumni game. This is the time that we come together as a community, as players and fans. We’re able to have some good football and celebrate the alumni. It’s a great time.”

On team bonding
“Everyday is a team-building activity. Half of my classes are with my teammates. When we’re in the locker room we’re all together playing ping pong and things like that too.”

On what he’s learned while returning from injury
“It can be frustrating when I’m not able to practice but at the same time it’s so fun to watch the other receivers grow within the offense. Watching Hobbs [Nyberg], Dom [Henry], Parker [Kingston] and the other guys has been very fun.”

On quarterback Kedon Slovis

“This guy is amazing. He has laser focus. He approaches the game with intent and intensity, whether that be in meetings or on the field. He’s always about how he can improve and he’s always diving into the intricacies of the offense when he’s watching film.”

On the alumni game
“It’s so much fun. I didn’t grow up a BYU fan, so I don’t know the tradition as much but when I get to go to a game like that, I feel the tradition in my heart and in my spirit. It feels so good to celebrate these guys who have moved on and been in the workforce and with their families.”

On adjustments and improvements to the offense
“Even week in and week out during the season, there’s always changes that have to be made. We do that because we want to keep being creative and evolve within the offense. Coach [Aaron Roderick] and Fesi [Sitake] do a great job of always finding new ways to implement to implement different thinking and route patterns so that the offensive doesn’t get stagnant.”