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Toppling dominoes: Team focus helping BYU football navigate evolution of college football world

By Jared Lloyd - | Jun 24, 2022

Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

BYU defensive players — including Josh Wilson (far left) — pose for a photo during spring camp in Provo on March 7, 2022.

Two of the most talked about things in college football right now are the transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities.

Every program is trying to figure out how to make use of the benefits and minimize the disadvantages, although no one is quite sure how growth in those areas will change the college sports in general in the long term.

BYU is no exception and Cougar director of athletics Tom Holmoe addressed those topics early in the “State of the Program” portion of media day that was held at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Wednesday.

“There are a lot of people working on ideas now but I think everybody has to come together,” Holmoe said on the show. “Right now you have too many people who are split on the issues. I’m not talking about just the athletic world but you have other interests. There are a lot of conflicts going on right, so it’s hard.”

But the BYU football players and coaches didn’t seem to feel like those issues are having a huge impact on them directly.

Most agree that being able to have a few extra bucks available thanks to NIL deals is nice.

“People think that because you are a football player, you are automatically making $5,000 a month, like you are rich,” Cougar senior defensive back Malik Moore said. “But we get a stipend that goes to rent and paying expenses. I’m broke too. Then there are the walk-ons who have to pay tuition as well. But I’d rather see a lot more people get help rather than just handouts.”

But they aren’t sure they like the direction lure of money is taking their sport overall.

“You’ll have NIL opportunities being at BYU because the fans are really giving in that way,” Cougar junior fullback Masen Wake said. “They want to see you succeed. But I think across the country it could turn into something like NFL free agency. For kids coming out of high school making $8 million to go somewhere when they are still in high school, that makes no sense. I think it’s going to bring a different breed of college football players, some who might not have a chip on their shoulder. They may feel like they’ve made it before they’ve done anything. I think they’ve got to regulate it, do something about it.”

When it comes to the transfer portal, it’s an interesting challenge for an athlete to attempt to balance doing what is right for them as an individual and being loyal to their teammates.

BYU junior wide receiver Puka Nacua went through that process when he chose to leave Washington and come to BYU and said that it really is a case-by-case situation.

“I think it is something that is unique to each situation,” Nacua said. “To find the balance of it is tough. Obviously everyone is looking to take care of themselves but the unique way our team operates because of the school here at BYU, I think we are in one of the better situations.”

BYU sophomore linebacker Ben Bywater said that the transfer portal could put a player in a tough situation as he tries to figure out his future.

“If I’ve been working my butt off for three years, and Kalani goes and gets a five-star linebacker to come start over me, then how does that make all the other kids feel?” Bywater said. “They might not want to work hard. They don’t want to go give it their all because what might happens. We do have transfers but I’m happier that our whole team isn’t made up of transplants. (Head coach Kalani Sitake) has a system. He’s smart guy and he’s been around the block. He knows what he’s doing.”

Cougar running backs coach Harvey Unga said he sees honestly as being key to help guys be confident with where they are at.

“How I’ve gone about coaching my guys and the culture in my room is that regardless of who comes in, I’m going to give them a shot,” Unga said. “I don’t care who it is. You could have been a two-year starter but if another guy comes in and outplays you, that person is going to play. It may sound harsh but I’m honest with them, upfront with them from the start. I make sure they know exactly where they stand and that’s meant that it’s never been a big deal.”

That was the case for his running backs this year as long-time starter Tyler Allgeier left, but Chris Brooks transferred in from Cal.

“Whether it is a grad transfer or a freshman or a returned missionary, whoever is the best player at the time is going to play,” Unga said. “If they go out and compete, they will get their shot. Because they know that, I think when Chris came in, I feel like he was welcomed. Guys were trying to help him along and teach him the offense. If they all know they will get a fair chance, I feel like they won’t be mad at whoever gets the spot.”

The general consensus from the BYU players and coaches is that the Cougars are invested in the team and believe they will get opportunities both on the field and off if the program in general is successful.

“If your team does well, you’ll end up doing well,” BYU junior tight end Dallin Holker said. “Look at Cincinnati. They did well last year and had a ton of players make it to the NFL. If you focus on helping every, everyone in the end will succeed.”

That’s why Cougar sophomore tight end Isaac Rex believes the guys aren’t going to worry too much about NIL deals or the transfer portal.

“We are a team and it’s a team game,” Rex said. “It’s not just one guy trying to make all the plays. We want to focus on the season. There are guys who talk about NIL deals and it is nice to get a couple of buck, but what we care about is focusing on South Florida and the upcoming year.”

BYU_PHOTO

BYU football players sing the fight song after the 59-14 Cougar win over Idaho State at LaVell Edward Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 6 ,2021. (Courtesy BYU Photo)

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