When BYU tight end Dallin Holker made a nice catch in traffic during Wednesday’s practice, no one took any extra notice.
That’s not surprising, since Holker has been doing it throughout camp — but remember, it’s not been that long since he was starring on the Lehi High football and basketball teams.
Holker is one of a number of Cougar football players who officially joined the program at the beginning of fall camp but are already impacting what is happening on the field.
“I’m really excited about the young guys,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “You could name them all. The four freshmen defensive backs we have are going to be something. They have so much potential. I like the young O-linemen. I’m really pleased with Dallin Holker. He’s going to be a really good player. Gunner Romney has big-time potential too. The young guys have stepped in and taken advantage of the summer bridge program we had. They are more ready to play than other freshmen we have had.”
Sitake explained that the Cougars have more options with the young players in 2018 than it ever has before due to the new rule changes.
“Your mindset is shifted because you can use them for four games without burning their year,” Sitake said. “Now we don’t have to make decisions and say you are definitely redshirtting. We can have a plan where everyone can contribute and play. That’s really good for us in providing more depth.”
That means getting them ready to contribute on the field could make a big difference during the season — particularly if they prove to be dynamic playmakers.
Many of the newcomers aren’t worried about that right now. They are zeroed in on being the best they can be.
“It’s been fun so far,” BYU freshman wide receiver Gunner Romney said. “I really like BYU. There is no one that has higher expectations for me than I do for myself. I came in with certain goals in mind. By the end of my college career, I want to be one of the go-to guys that everyone can count on. I’ve been limited because of a little injury but I’ve been studying the playbook and getting the schemes, focusing on the mental part.”
Holker definitely has been one of the top performers of the newcomer group, immediately pushing for playing time.
“It’s been good, getting to know the offense and learn from the seniors,” Holker said. “They’ve all helped me out a lot. I feel like I’m just getting used to repetition after repetition.”
He feels like his time as a Pioneer — including winning the 2017 5A state championship — laid a solid foundation for him.
“The coaches at Lehi got me pretty prepared,” Holker said. “They run a pretty hard offense — although it’s nothing like a college offense. It got me ready to know what I need to do.”
Arguably the most improved player from the first week of camp to this point three weeks later is freshman quarterback Jaren Hall, who recently returned from a mission to Roseville, California, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“He came home in great shape,” BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said. “You rarely see a returned missionary who is in that good of physical shape. He was physically ready to play. He’s a smart guy, he’s got a fast release and he’s accurate. He caught up quickly. He’s fighting to be in the mix out here and he’s got a bright future.”
Hall explained that his mission president is a “big BYU guy” and so made sure he was in a bike area near the end of his mission to help him get in shape.
“It’s been a good learning experience,” Hall said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the game in just the few months I’ve been here so far. I came in just wanting to learn as much as I can and be a student of the game.”
With an older brother at running back, junior KJ Hall, and a father (Kalin Hall) who was also a BYU star running back, Jaren Hall said he’s had some good resources to help him get acclimated to being a collegiate student-athlete.
“It’s a wonderful academic school, so first things first,” Jaren Hall said. “Then you fill in with football is tough and a grind, but they helped prepare me for that.”
Romney also has the help of his brother, freshman quarterback Baylor Romney who served a mission to Carlsbad, California, to keep him on course.
“He’s one of the reasons I came here and it’s really nice having him close,” Gunner Romney said. “Every day after practice, I grab him and we go throw a couple of routes just to get the timing. We push each other, so it’s nice to have a brother to really help you grow as a player and a person.”
With the talent they’ve already displayed, BYU fans should have every reason to expect to see great things from that trio and other newcomers during the upcoming season.