In the mix to uphold Mendenhall's defensive expectations is sophomore strong safety Jray Galea'i.
"We've had some letdowns this spring, but we've also had some success as well," Galea'i said. "Even though we've had some of those breakdowns, we're a defense that's still poised and we still hold our composure. We always work hard and run to the ball and just try to bring that defensive culture of BYU that Coach Mendenhall wants us to bring every play."
First-Team All-MWC safety Andrew Rich brought a tough enforcer-type mentality to BYU's defensive secondary, and Galea'i looks to continue that role and has shown flashes of that mindset during spring camp. He's fearless, has a lot of heart, and has no problem mixing it up with some of the bigger offensive linemen pulling around the edge on running plays.
"When you watch our practices, and in the one-on-ones, everyone is competing heard," Galea'i said. "It's very competitive and the receivers are trying to catch every ball and we're trying to rip out every ball they catch. Running backs are trying to fight for every yard and we're trying to hit them. There's been some pushing and shoving and some hitting going on throughout spring practice, but overall we're all just trying to earn a spot and show the coaches what we can do.
"It's a team effort," Galea'i continued. "Nobody has a set spot and everybody has to be working hard and be prepared to play. Last year, you know, we learned from the older guys like Andrew [Rich]. This year we're trying to keep that example going and keep that hard hitting and aggressive culture going."
Rich – who led the team with 110 tackles in 2010 – is a great example of how to play the safety position.
"Just from last year I've learned a lot by watching Andrew Rich and knowing the defense, and when you know the defense you're always a step faster," Galea'i said. "There's always room for improvement. I'm competing against Danny Sorensen and he's another great player too, so all I can do is continue to work hard and improve and see what happens."
Often reflecting attention away from himself and towards his teammates, Galea'i complimented those he is competing against. In addition to praising Sorensen, Galea'i had very good things to say about Mike Hague.
"Man, if you know Mike Hague, he's a hard worker," Galea'i said. "All I can say is he works hard in the weight room. He works hard in the film room. He's a great example to me. Sometimes I'll be slacking a bit and he'll be pushing hard in the drills, so I have to keep up with him. He's a hard worker and good example."
"When I make a mistake or make a wrong call, Jray is always there to help me out with the right calls," Hague said. "You know, I'm still learning and there's always room for improvement, so to have a guy like Jray back there with me is good and it really helps."
The Cougar secondary better know its role, and know it well, every time the defense steps out onto the practice field to face Heaps and the offense.
"He is the number one quarterback in the country out of high school," Galea'i said about Heaps with a smile. "He was named that for a reason and we see why every day, but going against him really helps us step up our game. You have to be smart and know your assignments because he's going to know his, and trust me, he'll throw the ball where it needs to be so, you have to be just that much more better in what you're doing."
While the safety position may be young in terms of experience, it's not without talent. That talent is being molded by one of the more intense coaches on the Cougar staff in Coach Howell. While the offense has enjoyed a lot of success this spring camp, the defensive secondary has not been without its own successes as well.
"This is a defense that, I think, is better in many ways than it was last year," Heaps said. "We've had some successes moving the ball downfield, but they've also had their success defending against us as well. We're all just battling out there and everyone is just trying to get better with each and every practice. I'm really pleased with how things are going in spring camp and it's only going to get better."
"I think we're going to be good, but just like Coach Mendenhall said, 'All we have is each other,'" Galea'i commented. "If we just be united and work together as a defense, we're going to be a very good defense. We're working to be one as a secondary and to know each other's strengths and weaknesses to be more united. All we can do is just grow and learn from Coach Howell and do what Coach Mendenhall says and go from there. I think we'll be pretty good once we clean up some things."