BYU junior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga said his overall favorite part of getting back to fall camp is being on the field with the guys.
Specifically, however, he loves the food.
“We get good food,” Tonga said with a grin. “I’ve missed that.”
The Cougars went back to work with their first day of practice in fall camp on Wednesday and head coach Kalani Sitake said he liked what he saw.
“I thought it was a really good Day 1,” Sitake said. “I liked the excitement from our players but I could tell that these guys worked really hard in the offseason. A lot of coaches will say that but it is pretty evident in the way they look and the way they are executing. I think we made a huge step forward with the player-run practices and players taking over the team.”
BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb said he was watching to see the mentality the Cougar athletes brought to the beginning of camp.
“I look for the right kind of energy,” Lamb said. “Every team comes out on the first day of camp with energy and passion. But is the passion directed at each other in a negative way or is it directed towards assignments and effort? I thought today there was a really good, positive energy of respect between offense and defense, respect between position groups — but no one was backing down. The challenge will be to maintain that.”
Lamb explained that not seeing guys scuffling or jawing at each other was a good sign.
“It shows they have been out practicing against each other,” Lamb said. “They were excited to be here, excited to be with the coaches, but it we didn’t have a lack of composure.”
Part of the reason for that, as Tonga described, was that Sitake specifically directed the team to not get carried away.
“In the past we’ve always been fighting but today he said, ‘don’t be physical — but be physical,’” Tonga said. “We all got the hint. There are times where it got close, where we wanted to fight, but there things you have to control to have a healthy team. We can let the aggression out when it comes game time but right now we have to be smart.”
He said that knowing how to play with an edge but not get carried away is crucial for success on the field.
“I think it’s going to be super-good for us as a team,” Tonga said. “We’re being disciplined when we are practicing and doing it the right way.”
But don’t misinterpret that as a lack of drive. There are plenty of things that are fueling this BYU squad.
“There is a lot more energy and a lot more fire,” Tonga said. “Coming off of last season when a lot of games were super-close, it rolled over to this season and how we’ve been working. It’s about not giving up and continuing to push forward through the hard times. It felt like forever but camp is finally here and it’s going good.”
After all the workouts, there is a satisfaction to finally getting to participate in fall camp, even though it is a grind.
“I was getting those anxious butterflies last night,” BYU sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson said. “I wasn’t nervous but just excited. It was a crazy seven months with how fast everything has flown by. I was excited to get out here.”
Wilson didn’t do all of the drills but was cleared to participate in practice and Sitake is confident the talented youngster will be ready to go when the season rolls around.
“He’s going to be fine,” Sitake said. “I have no worries about Zach. We are still working on him getting his legs back and being able to do everything 100 percent but I think he’s really close.”
There were a number of prominent guys who weren’t able to participate at the start of fall camp. Sitake said most of those situations are due to either academics or injuries but didn’t go into details.
He did address the status of wide receiver Neil Pau’u, who was arrested in June and charged with driving under the influence. He later plead guilty to a reduced charge of impaired driving.
“I love him to death,” Sitake said. “He is on the team but he is not participating in fall camp because he is not going to play this fall. He’s going to redshirt and be a junior for us next year. He is in school and is on the team, but we’re not going to bring him into fall camp because he is not going to play this year.”