Alisa looking to pick up the slack

With the loss of running backs J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya, others such as Michael Alisa will have to shoulder the load. That means more than just simply running the ball, but also being able to pick up and do what the former backs did so well within the offense.

"We'll definitely miss J.J. [Di Luigi], and he did a lot of things for our offense," Michael Alisa said. "He definitely helped me and Joshua [Quezada] and we'll miss him and what he brought to our offense. He and Bryan [Kariya] definitely knew their stuff and we have a lot of slack to pick up."

Di Luigi made his mark as a scat back that was a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Kariya on the other hand made his mark as a bruising north-and-south runner who punished defenders.

Last season, Alisa first burst on the scene against Ole Miss. He played in all 12 games, starting in four and finishing as the second leading rusher. This year he'll need to expand his role more to account for the loss of Di Luigi and Kariya.

"Mentally this year I have a much bigger advantage this year than I did last year," Alisa said. "Last year I just got the ball and ran and didn't really know any concepts, blocking schemes or understand the offense in general. That is one huge advantage that I'm looking forward to having this year going into the season."

With his newfound understanding of the finer points of being a running back, Alisa should run with more authority this year, much like Kariya did. Being a back in possession of greater speed than Kariya, Alisa has the potential to be a more effective runner if he can apply what he's learned.

"As a running back you have to have that confidence and not hesitating," Alisa said. "You have to not think but react naturally, knowing what to do, when to cut and where to go quickly. That is one thing now I feel I have more of this year than last year, so it should help me be a more effective pure runner."

Last season Alisa only caught five passes, and that will have to change in order to maintain that staple within the running back position that has allowed BYU to be so successful in years past.

"On top of what I've gained this year that I didn't have last year, I have to be more involved in the passing game," Alisa said. "I don't know if you noticed last year, but I was mostly used for pure running. That's what I did mostly last year. J.J. [Di Luigi] was so good in the passing game and he was really effective in sustaining drives out of the backfield and creating more diversity. Now that he's not here anymore, I have to pick up that slack."

So how far is Alisa in the passing side of the running back position?

"I'm still learning the plays but I'm leap years ahead of where I was at last year," said Alisa. "I'll be in those passing packages now rather than not be in them, and that will be the difference with me. Defenses won't be able to key in on me, knowing that I just run the ball or when someone else comes in knowing it could be more of a passing play. It's good for the whole offense in that way and makes us less predictable."

There's another area that Alisa and his teammates are looking to improve in as well.

"We have to cut back on the fumbles," Alisa said. "I feel we had a lot of fumbles last year. The turnovers last year just killed us. If we can hold onto that ball we'll win a lot more games."

The focus on holding onto the ball will be music to the ears of BYU fans all across the country. However, the focus of day one of spring camp was just to get all the plays right, according to Alisa.

"The first day of spring we want to execute every play right and do it fast. Even Coach Weber was telling us, ‘It doesn't matter if you mess up, just go fast. If you go fast right now in the beginning, even if you don't know the play, you'll catch up.'"

Day one didn't go as planned for Alisa. He didn't have the type of running performance he was hoping for, being one of the leading backs contending for a starting job.

"Right now, I'm not as healthy as I was last year," Alisa said. "I'm still coming back from my high ankle sprain and still feel a little stiff. I've been working a lot with the trainers and doing a lot of rehabbing everyday and icing. I'll be alright though, but it will take a little more time I think."

Despite the physical nature of day one, the good thing about spring practice is there's always the next day to improve one's performance and further polish new skills.

"Oh yeah, I feel like we have that chip on our shoulder and we're not satisfied with the year we had last year," Alisa said. "We're happy with our year, but, you know, we want to go to bigger bowls and play for bigger things. We're happy with what we did last year but we want more."

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