When on the football field, BYU senior safety Austin Lee is an aggressive presence who can be quite physical when driving a ball-carrier to the ground.
On the other side of the ball, Cougar sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson has proven willing to knock a defender to the ground after hurtling another.
But if you saw them off the field, don’t expect to see the same mentality.
“Austin is intense,” BYU senior safety Dayan Ghanwoloku said at Cougar Media Day last week. “He is an intense dude. On the field, he wants to win. Austin has like two kids at home and it’s like, what are you angry for? You’re a dad. He is different on the field. He’s like Khyiris Tonga. They look nice but on the field it’s like boom. I’m glad they are on my team.”
Wilson has is own personality that comes through when he is at class or out with friends that is different than being on the field.
“He can be immature off the field, like a little kid,” senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo said with a grin. “People ask me what he’s like and I say that he’s a diva. Quarterbacks get that perspective of them and he fulfills it. He’s a drama queen. He’s always worried about his hair because if he doesn’t have gel then he looks like a 12-year-old boy with his hair messed up. He worries about what he’s eating so his body is always looking right.”
But when it comes to football, Hifo has the utmost respect for Wilson’s drive, intensity and understanding of the game.
“We weren’t participating in spring ball but we were standing there watching the offense go against the defense,” Hifo said. “Before every play, Zach was dialed in and saying, ‘the linebacker will blitz right here and the pass will open up there’ and the ball would then go right where he was saying. He was checking the posture of the safeties, seeing all the little things. On the field, it is night-and-day with him.”
Wilson and Lee are two examples of just about all of the guys on the BYU football field. They all have their quirks and personalities, and often are just regular congenial people when going about daily life.
When the whistle blows and they are ready for football, they show a different side.
“There is a switch and I feel like everyone on the team has that,” Ghanwoloku said. “We look nice, out here talking, there is a certain switch you have to have. You can’t be all aggressive all the time.”
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said it’s huge for guys to find the right balance.
“We want them to be a certain way, especially at BYU, but they need to have their beliefs and opinions and express them,” Sitake said. “You’ve got to be physical for football. It’s important for me to define what toughness is for these guys. Some think tough guys are the ones that win a fight but sometimes the toughest guys are the ones willing to walk away. Tough guys are the ones who take a loss but no one can tell by the way they treat their family. I have a lot of tough guys on this team.”
Sitake said that he learned that mentality from Hall-of-Fame head coach LaVell Edwards, how he never let football impact how he treated others.
The Cougar players feel like the current BYU staff emphasizes finding the right balance.
“Coach Sitake says all the time that you have that switch on but once the games are over, you go home and love your family,” Ghanwoloku said. “That’s when that switch turns off. I’ve always kept that in my head. I’m the aggressive-me on the field but once I get off, I’m just me.”
Lee talked about how his wife Kortnie is very competitive as well and that led to some impressive battles — but they have found balance.
“It’s hard,” Lee said. “There were nights where we would play cornhole during the first years of our marriage and she wasn’t having it if I won and I wasn’t having it if she won. Sometimes we would go to bed angry. I learned really quick that you have to have that switch and that mentality to be able to be violent on the field but very nice and develop relationships off the field. It’s something you have to take time to learn.”
When guys find that discipline, Sitake explained that there is a reciprocal advantage when it comes to understanding how to maintain discipline while under duress when playing football.
“You have to play this game under control,” Sitake said. “When you lose control, you make some really bad decisions. Hopefully we can keep our guys focused on the goal of winning — and also to enjoy the game. When you are angry, it’s hard to enjoy something.”