Mendenhall Brings Old Mentality Back

What a difference a coaching change can bring to the vitality, heart and mentality of a team. It's only been two practices since Coach Mendenhall has taken back the reins of a defense once known for its tenacity, effort, aggression and reckless abandon, but that defensive demeanor appears to be returning.

The BYU defenses of old were tough and hard-hitting. They swarmed to the ball with fanatical effort. Over the past couple of years, however, the Cougar defense has looked more vanilla and watered-down while going through the motions. Well, things are about to change under Coach Mendenhall now that he's taken over defensive coordinator duties, and it all started Monday with a particular drill.

"We're accountable for every point that's scored on us as a defense, so this past game against Utah State they scored 31 points," said Eathyn Manumaleuna. "What we did was we did something called ‘perfect 10s.' We would line up 15 yards back and Coach would say, ‘Walk up,' and we would all have to walk up together and it has to be perfect. He would say, ‘Down,' and all of our hands would have to go down together perfectly. He would move the ball and we would have to sprint 10 yards, and if anyone messed up – either by putting their hand down slowly or in running through – we would have to do it again. We had to do 31 of those perfectly."

Due to a number of failed attempts, it took the defense two full sessions of perfect 10s to get 31 done perfectly. In fact, they didn't run one single defensive play on Monday.

Instead, Monday's practice was more about reestablishing previous philosophies that might have been lost over the past couple of years.

"I think there are a lot of things that deals with this drill," said Manumaleuna. "It's not only being accountable for the points that were scored on us, but also being united together, being perfect together, coming closer together and being perfect all around.

"It's just to get us back on track. Before we were just kind of lollygagging around and taking it easy and being spoiled. That's what a couple of the coaches called us. We just needed to get our mindset right on winning and being united and trusting each other. I think that was the main thing."

Coach Hill was good at teaching technique and helping the defenders understand the Xs and Os of the defense. What was lost once Mendenhall gave up the defensive coordinator reins was the culture of toughness, unity, fanatical effort and accountability.

"Yeah, it is a drastic difference," said new Cougar coaching staff member Kelly Poppinga. "It's just the culture part of it, the effort part of it, the physicality part of it has just been completely turned over, flipped over, washed over - whatever you want to call it. It's like we've turned a new leaf and we're a whole different team right now. Our meetings are different and everything is just like a clean slate right now and we're starting from scratch right now and we're going to go with it. In the past everything has been good, right? So hopefully through those things good things will happen on Saturday."

"Coach Mendenhall, what he does, we trust him," said Manumaleuna, who said he was excited about Mendenhall taking over the defense. "Whatever he does, he's going to work us hard. He even said that we are going to hate him sometimes but it's all for the better, so yeah, we're now a lot more serious. We're now a lot more accountable for our mistakes and just working harder. I mean, not only for the defense but for the offense, and I think they're working harder now. It's going to be better. Mendenhall is taking over right now, and just the mindset is totally different. We're coming together and we're trusting each other more."

After Coach Mendenhall took over the defensive coordinator duties, he met with the defensive players for a heart-and-soul check.

"He said, 'There's going to be changes whether you're with it or not,'" Manumaleuna said. "The first question he asked us was, 'Do you trust me?' Everybody raised their hand and he said, 'Okay, let's go to work. If you trust me then you trust my work ethics and what I'm trying to do with you guys.' So whatever he's trying to do with us and whatever he is planning for us in the future for tomorrow or the next day, we trust him enough that he'll make us better."

Tuesday's practice was also intense, but for different reasons.

"Even with our run plays we couldn't let them pass the scrimmage line or we would be held accountable and we would have to run after practice," said Manumaleuna. "The accountability is kind of our motive right now and it will shift into how this is how we're supposed to play even during practice with being perfect."

"Obviously it's a big emphasis in our meetings as a coaching staff, big emphasis with our players and in practice," said Poppinga. "It's an emphasis in our players and in practice. You weren't able to see it during today's practice, but if the offense got one yard, they were held accountable after practice. It was like a bloodbath today during practice. I mean, shoot man, we may not have any guys go play on Saturday, but they played hard today. I think the standard was set and hopefully that translates on Saturday."

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