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Cougar gambits: Chess and March Madness bring fun elements to team bonding for BYU football

By Jared Lloyd - | Mar 17, 2023

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches his players line up for a play during spring camp in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023.

BYU senior quarterback Kedon Slovis has only been in Provo for a few months but he has already gotten involved in the current Cougar athlete competition phenomenon: chess.

“I hadn’t played in forever but it’s actually really fun,” Slovis said after practice on Friday. “I’m not very good. I need to learn some opening. But once we get going, I’m fine. It’s big in the locker room. If Chess.com wants an NIL deal with the BYU football team, I’m sure we’d be happy to do it.”

Slovis said he has played junior tight end Isaac Rex a lot and BYU sophomore wide receiver Chase Roberts said Wednesday that Rex is probably the best on the team.

“Isaac and I actually went 1-1 yesterday, so we probably need to play a best-of-three to see who wins it all,” Slovis said.

Roberts said chess took over the Cougar locker room “a couple of months ago” and said that he thought it was initiated by Rex and him.

“A couple of other guys started to join and then everyone started battling,” Roberts said. “Now it’s become something that we love and we play it all the time. It’s just been fun.”

One of the interesting aspects of chess is that there are elements that can be applied both to the classic board game and to the gridiron. Trying to anticipate what the other team is going to do when it takes the field and counter it is often referred to as a chess match.

“I think there are elements that are beneficial,” Roberts said. “There is also the competitiveness that goes along with it as well. It’s also about having the time to relax and be with your teammates.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said that’s what he cares most about. He has seen other fun trends come and go but likes seeing his players develop their friendships off the field.

“I think it goes in phases,” Sitake said. “There was ping pong. There’s all this stuff that they do. All I care about is that the guys are hanging out together. I think the chess phenomenon happened when a bunch of guys think they’re good at chess so they challenge others and then they kind of get together and compete. I don’t really care what it is. They just love to be around each other and that’s a good sign for our program and our culture. We have some really good guys on this team and they’re great, great young men on the field and off the field. They do a great job but they’re also really good friends and loyal to each other. I like that they hang out together and love each other.”

This time of year brings another common competition element as a lot of players fill out NCAA basketball tournament brackets and see how their predictions do in the Big Dance.

“I am a basketball guy,” Slovis said. “My bracket isn’t looking to great early, but I’ve still got all the big teams. That’s where the points are. I like picking upsets and in past years I’ve been really good, but this year I was kind of like forget the upsets. Let’s just go for the lead eight. We’ll see how that goes in the next couple of weeks.”

Sitake also does his own bracket and chose to be loyal to his new conference this year.

“My bracket is just for fun,” Sitake said with a grin. “I’m just trying to beat my kids. I’m going with a Big 12 team to win it all.”

While chess and March Madness brackets are a couple of the fun elements threaded into spring camp right now, the bottom line is there is still a lot the Cougars want to accomplish on the field.

Sitake said he is seeing some good things as BYU players and coaches put in the work on the practice field.

“It’s been a great second week of practices,” Sitake said. “We’ve been really, really physical. We did a lot of tackling on Monday and again today. There has been quite a bit of live work even with the No. 1s, probably more than we have done in the past. I think it is a good look for our guys to get used this style of defense and then also with what we want to accomplish in the run game. To do that, we have to get out there and make it live in some situations.

“For the first six practices, I’m really happy with where we’re headed. There are some really good things that I’m seeing from our players right now. Guys are stepping up and making plays, and that’s in all three phases. I’m really happy with the way the offense is working, the way the defense is working and obviously with special teams. I’m really happy with what we’re doing right now.”


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