BYU football players learning to accept different roles

BYU vs. Idaho State
2011-10-19T00:30:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:09Z BYU football players learning to accept different rolesJared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 19, 2011 12:30 am  • 

During every football season, players emerge and earn playing time. Sometimes those are determined by injuries; other times it's just because one guy is making more plays.

This year BYU junior quarterback Riley Nelson and sophomore running back Michael Alisa are two clear examples.

But for every player that steps forward, that means that one or more that thought they would be the ones filling those roles have to take a step back.

It's a challenge that both the players and the coaches recognize as an added challenge for those being replaced or having to accept a different set of responsibilities.

The Cougar quarterback position has been the most publicized spot where this has taken place.

When Nelson came in during the third quarter of the Utah State came, no one could've known that the junior would be taking the position from sophomore Jake Heaps.

Now Heaps, who came in as a freshman in 2010 and earned a shared role as the starter, then took sole possession of the quarterback position only three games in, is the one watching from the sidelines.

"He's frustrated and it's been difficult on him," said BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "I test him every week to see if he's on top of his game and that he's very prepared to play. But he's handled it really well and I'm really proud of him."

Some speculate that with the change in roles, Heaps might consider transferring at some point but Doman said he doesn't want to see that happen.

"I haven't thought about it and I'm not concerned about it," Doman said. "I hope he sticks around and I get to coach him all the way to the finish. I suspect that will be the case, that he'll end up playing and end up doing great again. We just don't know when."

While this is might be one of the most challenging times of the sophomore's career in football, it's also an opportunity for him somewhat to follow in the footsteps of many of the Cougar greats.

Most of BYU quarterbacks of the past only enjoyed a couple of years as the starter. With the exception of Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, few even saw action as freshmen.

Instead, they did their time from the sidelines, watching and learning, until they finally earned their spot on the field.

For Heaps, the process has been somewhat reversed as he started on the field and now might have the chance to learn and grow by watching.

"(Having time to learn early in a career) makes a significant difference," Doman said. "I think spectators can see that the level of maturity between Nelson and Heaps is different. Nelson has been in college football for four years and been around other quarterbacks. Heaps hasn't had that chance yet."

Although it's a different situation, Doman hopes the sophomore is picking up whatever he can.

"There are going to be certain things he's going to learn in this situation that there is no way we could've fabricated for him," the coach said. "He's in the middle of a tough situation and I believe he'll overcome it."

Both Doman and head coach Bronco Mendenhall say they meet with Heaps regularly to try and help him gain everything he can.

"He's handling things really well," Mendenhall said. "I've been impressed. Certainly he's frustrated and wants to be the starting quarterback, but he's also acknowledged that Riley (Nelson) is playing really well and the team's responding. He's been very mature about that."

While the situation for Heaps is the most prominent, he isn't the only one on the BYU offense that has had to accept different roles.

With the emergence of Alisa and to a lesser extent the running of Nelson, the Cougar running back trio of senior JJ Di Luigi, senior Bryan Kariya and sophomore Joshua Quezada are seeing fewer touches.

Doman said that while those players would love to be getting more carries, he's impressed with the way they've accepted what is best for the team.

"That running back group has been as impressive of a group as I have seen in terms of unity," he said. "Granted, they want the football and sometimes they express their frustrations, but they are doing a fantastic job being team guys."

Helmet malfunction: Mendenhall noted that the NCAA is paying more attention this season to the number of times helmets come off during games, going so far as to have the referees count the occurrences.

"It drives me crazy," he said. "If you were to ask me, I bet we are in the Top 10. I'm guessing, but it seems like they come off a lot."

Packed house: BYU head football athletic trainer Kevin Morris said he got a little tired during the Oregon State game since he was being called onto the field so often.

He's nearly as busy now in the training room as he and his staff are working hard to get the Cougars to be healthy and ready for the game against Idaho State.

Morris said that defensive linemen Romney Fuga and Hebron Fangupo are both day-to-day decisions as they see how they come along this week. Ezekial Ansah is a little more serious with his MCL injury and Morris said he would be questionable.

Austin Heder suffered a stinger during the game against the Beavers and he also has some work to do to get back.

It's good news for Jordan Pendleton and Uona Kaveinga, however, as both should be ready to go.

The only long-term loss was Richard Wilson, who had surgery Monday on his ACL and although Morris said things went well, Wilson is done for the year.

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or at He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.

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