Beaten but never down

After Monday's morning practice, Uona Kaveinga looked like he had just gone toe to toe in a twelve-round bout with former heavyweight fighter Mike Tyson and won. The BYU middle linebacker came off the practice field with little left in the tank, having left everything he had between the lines, and for good reason.

It all started Monday morning before the team even stepped out onto the practice field. The sun was just starting to peek over the Wasatch Mountains at about 6:00 a.m. when the defense was out running prior to practice.

"Man, I'm just tired," said Kaveinga, who spoke with his eyes mostly closed. "We were out running early this morning long before practice even started."

Although physically it looked as though he was running on autopilot, Kaveinga – a player BYU fans have high expectations for this season – was mentally sharp and alert. His one-thing-at-a-time approach to practice keeps him from becoming overwhelmed and bogged down with expectations.

"I just take one thing at a time," he said with a smile. "I have to do it that way. When we do pursuit drills, I just think of that. When we switch to do something else, I just think of that. It's one thing at a time, because if you think about everything that's expected of you, you'll go crazy. We do a lot, but I think we're going to have a solid defense overall because of how much we do."

Even after practice was finished, the players weren't done. The Cougar defenders were out on the field running through sprints in the heat of the day.

"The main focus that Coach Mendenhall is working with the defense is the conditioning," Kaveinga said. "We want to be at the top of our conditioning in order to be able to dominate every play. This is what Coach Mendenhall is training us to do. We have a lot of potential and now it's just up to the players."

When the Cougars head to Mississippi for their season opener on September 3, the heat and humidity of the South will be an additional opponent. That's one reason why Coach Mendenhall has been drilling his defense with conditioning before and after practices.

"I think we're going to have a great run defense," said Kaveinga. "I really do think we have the guys to be that type of team. Our first priority is to not let anyone run on us. People are going to see how we take pride in stopping the run. We don't like anybody running the ball on us.

"I think that's one reason why Coach Mendenhall is so tough on us. It's going to be great seeing how good we can be as a run defense and see how that opens things up for us. When you take away the run, there's only one thing left to do and that's pass the ball. When that happens, that's when everything else falls into place.

"In comparison to other defenses, this is a great scheme because there are so many different things you can do. Not only that, but when you have a great scheme run by a great coordinator like Coach Mendenhall, with the calls he makes and the talent we have at every position to really open the defense up, it just makes it all that much better. He's really comfortable making certain calls because he knows what the defense can do and the types of players that can execute it."

Kaveinga, a USC transfer, said that the Cougar defense is comparable to what he saw while playing at his former college.

"Athletic-wise, yes," Kaveinga said. "We'll just have to wait and see how well we perform in the games to see how we'll we stack up. You can be really athletic, but that doesn't mean you're going to be a good defense, but I'm really confident that Coach Tidwell and Coach Mendenhall will have us to the level where the players play like a USC group. It's about what the athleticism does and not just about having it."

There is one attribute in particular that Kaveinga feels the defense will not be in short supply of.

"If I had to pick one word to describe this defense, it would be the word ‘physical,'" Kaveinga said. "That's our defense. That's what we set as the standard to be a part of this defense. If you're not a physical player you don't belong here, because that's what we take pride in.

With that in mind, it all makes sense as far as why there's been such a high emphasis placed on running and conditioning. The mindset of this year's defense, according to Kaveinga, is that they want to assert their will on their opponents, and the only way to do that is to be more physical and better conditioned then they are.

"We want to be a certain way because there's only so much people can take, so if we play physical and never let up we know they won't be able to take it as much as we can," Kaveinga said. "That's what we want to do. We want to keep going and going because we know there's only so much people can take."

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