While some fans may take sophomore Zed Mendenhall for granted, that certainly isn't the case for the Cougar tailbacks.
"Zed Mendenhall has done an amazing job for us this year," said J.J. Di Luigi. "I wouldn't have had nearly as many yards without him lead-blocking, and I know that Bryan [Kariya] and Josh [Quezada] feel the same. He's been great for our running game."
"I wouldn't be nearly as productive without the job Zed has been doing, none of us would," added Kariya. "He's an animal who is really perfect for the position. He loves to hit people and he almost always takes out a tackler for us."
Mendenhall is a walk-on in every sense of the word. Hailing from Lone Peak High School in Alpine, Utah, he received no Division I scholarship offers or even a preferred walk-on slot on the team and had to try out.
"I had some options at some junior colleges, but I wanted to go to BYU," Mendenhall said. "I got lucky, I guess. My first tryout I competed against about 100 guys and was one of seven to make the team my first year. I started out playing linebacker, but moved to fullback during spring ball before my mission."
It makes a lot of sense that Mendenhall started off as a linebacker, given the fact that he likes to hit guys. He's truly one of those players who would sooner decleat an opposing player rather than run the ball for a big gain.
"He's really helped us with the I-formation stuff," said running back coach Lance Reynolds. "He does almost all of our lead-blocking, and most of the stuff he does - about all of the stuff he does - isn't appreciated by the public. He fulfills a critical role for us and he's done a great job for us and he's a big part of what we do offensively."
When people were speculating on what the depth chart would be like this season, few - if any - had Mendenhall penciled in as the starting fullback. With some promising scholarship players coming in, a recently returned missionary that was also a walk-on wasn't everyone's likely choice.
But he proved them all wrong and came out of fall camp firmly entrenched as the starter at his position.
"He was able to pick up things very quickly, which really impressed me as his coach," said Reynolds about Mendenhall. "It's not as easy as most people think and there's a ton of stuff involved with what he does, but he's been able do it. You have to adjust to everyone's mistakes constantly, find his way best through the line, while picking off potential tacklers. It's not easy at all, but he's made it look easy, which is a big compliment to him."
No one made the fullback's role look easier than Manase Tonga, who filled the position very effectively throughout his career. While Mendenhall has spelled Tonga effectively in some areas, he still has a ways to go in bringing everything that Tonga did.
"It's really not fair to Zed to compare him to Manase at this point because Manase was such a special guy for us," explained Reynolds. "I remember my son Houston, when he got off his mission, commenting to me how he couldn't believe how much better the offense would run things by Manase just showing up. He couldn't believe that one guy could make such a difference. His personality and his presence just lifted everyone."
Reynolds readily recalls that it took a while for Tonga to reach that point, but he's hoping that Mendenhall will reach that point. So far he likes what he's seen, as have the other running backs.
"He really makes it easy for us," explained Kariya. "It's not hard for me and what I do; I just run behind Zed and I know I'm going to make yards."
Mendenhall is quick to return the compliment.
"Fortunately those guys are easy to work with," he said. "All three of them are great running backs and they're doing most of the work, so they deserve the credit. I'm just hoping to help out where I can."