Joseph Hovey | Posted: 5 Aug 2021 | Updated: 12 Aug 2021

Football opens 2021 fall camp

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PROVO, Utah – BYU football began preparations for the 2021 season with the first practice of fall camp on Thursday. 

Following months of offseason workouts and player-run practices, the team reported on Wednesday for meetings and equipment issue prior to reuniting with coaches for Thursday’s opening practice.

Despite the departure of 13 players to the NFL in April, BYU returns talent and experience on both sides of the ball, including veterans named to 15 national award preseason watchlists.

On offense, the Cougars’ returning experience includes running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa, Outland Trophy candidate James Empey at center and primary pass-catchers Isaac Rex, Neil Pau’u and Gunner Romney.  Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover will vie for the starting quarterback position vacated by No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick Zach Wilson. 

Fall camp marks the return of running backs Jackson McChesney and Hinckley Ropati from injury, while tight end Dallin Holker returns to the team following his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wide receivers Samson and Puka Nacua practiced with the team for the first time on Thursday after transferring from Utah and Washington, respectively.

The BYU defense is anchored by veteran linebackers Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili and Max Tooley. In the defensive backfield, the Cougars return D’Angelo Mandell, Isaiah Herron and Malik Moore. Chaz Ah You returned to the field for the Cougar defense on Thursday after missing most of the 2020 season with injuries.

The Cougar defense also welcomed transfers Jakob Robinson (Utah State) and Kaleb Hayes (Oregon State) at defensive back on Thursday.

BYU opens the 2021 season against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4. The matchup between the Cougars and Wildcats will be broadcast live on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. PDT and can be heard on the BYU Sports Network (BYUradio SiriusXM 143, BYU app, app, KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/116 AM).

Fans can celebrate the coming season at the 16th annual Cougar Kickoff in Provo on Tuesday, August 17th from 6-8:30 p.m. MDT and at a fan fest hosted at Craig Ranch Regional Park in Las Vegas on Friday, Sept. 3 from 6-8 p.m. PDT.

The following quotes are from Thursday’s post-practice availability at the Student Athletic Building.

Head coach Kalani Sitake | Full Interview

On overall impressions from day one
My general feel from practice is I really like how the players worked during the offseason. They took care of themselves, got themselves ready. Things were a lot cleaner than I’ve seen in the past, but we still have a lot more work to do. I am very pleased with day one. As a head coach I am gauging in on effort and how clean things are run. For the most part, I am really excited about what I saw today. I love seeing what the players did in the offseason and how it paid off in practice today.  A lot of guys came back healthy and that was encouraging to me. We want to keep promoting our culture and living it the right way.

On vaccinations and health of the team
It’s really important for us to get on the field and we’ve done a great job as a program working with our sports medicine department and we will continue to do that. It’s important to educate our players and staff and work well with the sports medicine department in order to get our guys on the field and keep our community safe.

On position battles
The guys have to learn to work together and against each other. They are being physical and competing hard, even without the pads on. I love that our guys can learn to be physical but also play smart and take care of each other.

On team leadership
You have to allow the players an opportunity to lead. You don’t need a starting position to lead, you just have to be willing to lead by example, stand up for what’s right and defend the culture we have on this team. I want them to feel empowered and find innovative ways to get better as a program and that means giving them opportunities to lead.

Kalani on preparation to play Arizona
We have definitely put in a lot of prep because it’s a new coaching staff from all over and we want to make sure we are ready for anything. They have some great talent and we need to be prepared.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick | Full Interview

On the first day of fall camp
It was good, not great. But day one, they did a lot of good things. We have a really good defense.

On players who stood out
Neil Pau’u picked up right where he left off last year. He’s a really good player. Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa looked good and Dallin Holker looks like he never left.

On the Nacua brothers
They bring a lot to our offense; experience, toughness and both of them had really good moments today. They’re a good addition to our team.

On the depth of the offense 
We got a good tight end group, our receiver depth is the best it’s been since I’ve been here. On the offensive line, we’ve got a big group of guys with about six players that have a lot of played time and are proven players that I have a lot of faith in.

On naming a starting quarterback before week one
That would be ideal. Whoever is going to start the game has a week to 10 days to know it’s him and be ready for the game.

Quarterback Jaren Hall | Full Interview

On potentially being named QB1
My mindset is to go win against Arizona.

On vaccinations
That’s everyone's choice. Obviously, we want to play and have the opportunity to get through a full schedule healthy.

On stepping away from baseball
I’m confident that it will play into my ability to play faster and play smarter and just be more dialed in when game time comes.

We have a great agency in Ohana. They’re taking care of that while I have the blessing of just focusing on football.

Defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua | Full Interview

On the morale of the team
Today was a great day. We started playing football. We’re tired of just working out, we want to go play football. I saw some chippiness out there, so that’s how you know guys are excited to play. We’re hungry. A lot of guys have a lot to prove, especially when everyone keeps saying that our schedule was full of cupcakes last year. We need to show them that last season wasn’t a fluke.

On his physical health, health of the team
I broke my leg last year and I was going to get a sixth-year waiver anyway, so the COVID rule for eligibility just made the process to come back easier. I know I have more to give. This year we had our strength and conditioning coach Nu’u Tafisi all offseason to help us with workouts. So, I feel like a lot of guys are physically ready. I’m physically ready.

On defensive linemen Pepe Tanuvasa and Atunaisa Mahe
Everyone knows about Tyler Batty, but I also want to give a shoutout to Pepe Tanuvasa. He has been working hard this offseason. He is so fast, so twitchy. I’m excited to see what he has. He’s someone that’s going to show up in the fall. I’m ready to ball-out with him. Atunaisa Mahe is strong. I think he’s stronger and faster than Khyiris Tonga was last season. Atunaisa is scary good.