It might take a BYU football fan who is really dialed in to the statistics to know what these five numbers have in common:
90, 41, 39, 33 and 33.
Got it figured out?
Those are the yardage of BYU’s five longest official kickoff returns of the season so far. Four of those were tallied by explosive Cougar sophomore returner Adam Hine, while junior Paul Lasike had the other 33-yard return.
“It's been a lot of fun,” Hine said. “We've put a big emphasis on our KOR (kickoff return) team and it's been unbelievable. I love it. It's a great way to start off, getting out there and going hard.”
BYU is averaging 27.2 yards per kickoff return, making it 10th best in the country. Hine is fourth in FBS football as he is gaining 32.7 yards per return.
Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall said it’s been a pleasant surprise to have Hine be that successful.
“I thought he would be solid but I didn't know he would be explosive or be able to do what he's done,” Mendenhall said. “A lot of it is also who is blocking for him and how well are they doing.”
Yet Cougar fans know the average could be so much higher for both Hine and BYU, since a number of long returns were nullified by penalties early in the year.
That included one that would’ve put the Cougar sophomore in an elite club of returners who have taken a kickoff all the way to the end zone for a touchdown.
Hine notched the 100-yard return against arch-rival Utah — a play that might’ve completely changed the outcome of the game — but had to trudge all the way back when one of the BYU blockers was flagged for holding.
“It was hard but the best thing about it is that we have so many games left in the season that we can still bring it to the house,” Hine said. “We're excited about that. I think we can get it done.”
There is only one Cougar player currently on the team who knows what it’s like to achieve that goal for BYU (and have it count). That’s Cougar senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who went 93 yards to the house against Central Florida in 2011.
“It's pretty high up there for me (among the things I’ve done),” Hoffman recalled. “No one had done it for a few years. It felt good to be able to do that. I hope Adam will be able to take one back. He's a great returner, so I wish him all the best.”
Both Hine said being a kick returner requires speed, instincts and good blocking.
“I'd say the biggest factor is everyone getting on their guy,” Hine said. “You get one guy missing a block and that can throw off the whole return. Once everyone has their guy, you can use speed to get to where you need to.”
Wide receiver coach Guy Holliday, who helps coach the kickoff returns, said he saw pretty early on that Hine had the physical skills to be good.
“I thought when I first got here in spring drills, when I watched him run, I saw he had a big body, which is what you want on kickoff return,” Holliday said. “Running backs normally have pretty good vision, so it was good to have a bigger guy who can really hit it. On kickoff you want a guy who can put his foot in the ground and explode and outrun people.”
Of course, sometimes even an athlete like Hine can’t outrun everyone.
“There is no bigger game-changer in my opinion than a kickoff or punt return,” Holliday said. “We've been close. Maybe it we make the kicker miss we'll score one time. We give him a hard time. We call him '40-plus.' He gets to the 40 and whatever he gets after that is a plus. But you'll take that every time.”
Hine laughed when asked about how often he hears it from the other guys about getting caught by a kicker.
“I had to tell them there is the first for everything,” he said. “I had to get it out of my system. I got a little too confident and got taken down.”
On the serious side, however, it can be a dangerous situation to be in a place where opponents are running full speed directly at you. Hine discovered the reality of that when he tried to make a block on a return by Lasike against Middle Tennessee and ended up being knocked unconscious.
“It was as bad as it looked,” Hine said. “I was knocked out cold but the good thing about it was that when I got back up I started remembering things. It wasn't like I had a bad concussion. It was scary. They said I was snoring out there but it was scary to wake up from it.”
Lasike said that although he was worried about his teammate, it meant a lot to him to see Hine put himself in that position for the team.
“It really makes me proud to have a brother on the right or left who is willing to put their body on the line for me,” Lasike said. “It's the same for me. I'm going to try and put my body on the line for my teammates.”
Lasike has frequently been the lead blocker on the play but has also had his chance to make some returns.
“The good thing with Adam is he's not scared to hit the gap with pace and just trust the system,” he said. “I'm just trying to lead up there and block for him. But I love being back there with Adam because he's a great returner so sometimes teams try to kick it away from him. So I'm back there licking my chops, hoping they kick it to me.”
The New Zealand-native said his rugby background makes it feel like a natural part of the game — but he can’t let it get him out of system.
“It's not so much to run where you see the grass because there's a system where people are blocking for you,” Lasike said. “I try and follow that, even though I might see a huge patch of grass that I want to take. There was once in the Texas game where I took it to the left because I saw it was a one-on-one. But coach Andrew George told me off. I got to the 25-yard line, so he was fine with it but he said that if I didn't get to the 25, then he would've been mad at me for not taking it right.”
Hine said he has complete trust in Lasike both as a blocker and as a returner.
“It's nice to have Paul back there because as an off-returner, he's awesome,” the sophomore said. “You wouldn't want anyone else out there. When he runs the ball, he's someone you can trust. He's big, but he has speed too.”
The biggest beneficiaries from the success of the kickoff returns have been the Cougar offense, who often start with better field position.
“It's tremendous,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae. “Those guys give us great field position. We could use every great opportunity that we can get and never take that deal for granted. I've very proud and excited about the way those guys work. That is not a fluke. That is by design.”
Mendenhall said the kickoff return game has been only one of many special teams areas that have seen success this fall.
“The emphasis has been on not being able to start on offense or defense without starting on a special team,” he explained. “We've held true to that, so we have better players participating and trying really hard. I think that plus the emphasis the coaches are making has helped.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.