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Got to be ready: Sunday break helps BYU football refocus and prepare for Arizona State

By Jared Lloyd - | Sep 13, 2021
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BYU players celebrate with fans after the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (BYU Photo)
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BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake waves to the fans after the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (BYU Photo)
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BYU players celebrate with fans after the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (BYU Photo)
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BYU players celebrate with fans after the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (BYU Photo)

An invitation accepted to join the Big 12 conference on Friday … finally getting a win over rival Utah after more than a decade of futility on Saturday … so how was Sunday for BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake?

“It was great,” Sitake said during Monday’s press conference. “I got to go to church and I saw a lot of happy people there. Sundays are always good after wins — and even after losses they are good to restructure your life. It was a good time with family and taking a break from what we do during the week.”

For most Cougar fans, the elation over back-to-back days of monumental positives for BYU athletics will be hard to top.

But that can’t be the case for the Cougar players, who have another big game to get ready for.

“Saturday was so much fun, but winning that game isn’t our end goal,” BYU junior offensive lineman James Empey said. “We have 10 more games to battle, especially one this weekend. The guys are already turning their focus towards Arizona State and looking forward to that game. They’ve been good on film and are going to be a great challenge. We’re excited to get rolling this week.”

BYU is an institution that is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has strong beliefs about Sabbath-Day observance.

That was highlighted by a TV interview given by Cougar senior defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua after the big win on Saturday night.

When Leiataua was asked where the big after-party was going to be,” Leiataua said, “I’m going to go to bed so I can go to church!”

BYU junior defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea said that Leiataua did exactly what he said he was going to do.

“Those in the YSA ward confirmed that he went to church the next day,” Fauatea said with a grin. “We saw him at treatment too and he was going to church right after. We made sure he stuck to his word.”

Sometimes the decision to not work on Sunday presents challenges for the Cougars, since it means they spend one fewer day preparing than most teams do.

But it can also be an advantage, according to Fauatea.

“I think it’s a positive,” he said. “The coaches always talk about a life of balance. We need to be with our families on Sunday. Whether we win or lose, we need to spend time with our families. Sundays we go to church and worship our Heavenly Father. We do come in on Sundays to help heal the bumps and bruises so we are ready to go the following week.”

The reset might also pay dividends as BYU looks to avoid a letdown following the rivalry victory.

“We emphasize that we are taking it one week at a time, one game at a time,” Fauatea said. “As long as we do our small and simple things as a team and individually, we should be able to keep focused. We echo off of what Kalani says. What Kalani says, we follow.”

BYU junior running back Lopini Katoa said that the Cougar drive to maximize team-wide performance is another area of focus.

“One of the biggest things that drove us last week was that we didn’t play our best football against Arizona,” Katoa said. “We weren’t satisfied with how we played. We still haven’t played our best football. So, we are competing against ourselves.”

Sitake wants to see his BYU athletes replicate what they did prior to the game against the Utes to get ready to face the No. 19/21-ranked Sun Devils Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN).

“I liked that it was intense,” Sitake said. “I like the preparation. I liked the way our guys were focused on what was going on. They were so razor-sharp focused that the game was more important than the Big 12 announcement. That was different than any other week we’ve seen. That was evident from what we saw as a coaching staff. Now let’s do that exact same thing again, have the same mindset, intensity and focus. I think it was nice to see the players do that and then see the success we had from it.”

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