Spring Report: Manaia Brown back in action

High anticipation and great expectations have been building for a year to see what immediate impact Nebraska transfer Manaia Brown will have this fall as a redshirt BYU sophomore. The Blue & White spring game this Saturday will provide an early, if "rusty", glimpse at long last.

Even TotalBlueSports.com's informal Front Page poll lists Manaia Brown (105) as the player Cougar fans want to see the most -- well ahead of Taufui Vakapuna (65), Daniel Coats (63) and Bristol Olomua (25).

Brown, one of only three true freshman to play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2001 national championship game, has become an "Internet legend" based on firsthand reports from first-team defensive and offensive players who faced and saw him last season as a scout team player.

Unfortunately, Brown suffered a deep shoulder bruise injury during a snowmobile outing several months ago with BYU recruits. The injury has kept him from lifting heavy weights and out of full contact spring drills until this past Monday.

"It's feeling better. It still hurts some, but it comes and goes. I still feel the pain sometimes, but it's no big deal," Brown said today after practice.

His defensive line coach, Steve Kaufusi, downplayed the hype surrounding Brown last week: "I don't know what all the excitement is about. I haven't seen him play yet this spring so he still has to prove what he can do."

On Monday and today, Brown was very impressive in the practice scrimmages he participated in.

Head coach Gary Crowton noted today "it's not easy to just come back after injury and pick up where the other guys are, but I like what I see (in Manaia) and I'm sure he'll improve.

On Monday, Brown made two consecutive tackles in the backfield. Today, he saw some reps with the first team unit in a few short scrimmages.

In his first rep, Brown anticipated the snap count and jumped the Center as he simultaneously snapped the ball, forcing a fumbled exchange in the backfield. Several plays later, he bull-rushed a double team up the middle that resulted in a quarterback sack.

"I'm a little rusty right now. It feels great being out there again, though. I'm at least two to three weeks behind right now not having practiced, so my work is cut out for me right now," Brown said.

"I'm looking forward to the Spring Game this Saturday. Hopefully, I can go. It's great to be playing again and, hopefully, I can catch up."

Crowton also said of Brown: "He's been hurt, so he still needs some time to catch up, but his presence is felt immediately because he's so big and strong."

Nose tackles Daniel Marquardt and Justin Carlson have both been outstanding this spring. With last year's starter Ifo Pili and Manaia Brown added to the mix, it's doubtful BYU has had this much depth at this critical position.

Brown was raised in Utah and was an All-State player at Granger High School.

Spring Practice Notes:

- Crowton outlined his plans regarding the Spring Game today. He will divide the defense and offense into opposing squads.

"We divided up the coaches and the players and we'll be posting the teams tomorrow."

He plans on going with eight minute quarters on Saturday.

"I don't want it to be too long since we don't want any injuries, but I want them to feel the game situation. Hopefully, there will be a lot of fans there so we can create a real game atmosphere."

Crowton will also work around the possibility of the men's basketball team advancing in the NCAA tournament.

"Right now we're planning at starting about 12 noon unless the basketball team wins (first round game against University of Connecticut), which I'm hoping they do. Then, we'll go at 11 a.m. That way, we'll be done before the basketball team plays their second game."

- Crowton has made it a practice during this spring to stop practice every morning as the national anthem is played over the loudspeakers around 7 a.m. and stand at attention.

"Yeah, it's something we try to do as much as possible. I want these guys to have a moment to reflect upon this great country of ours. I especially feel it's important during this time as our nation prepares to go to war."

- Quinn Gooch was back in action with an interception he returned all for a touchdown. All his 10 other defensive teammates were on his heels accompanying him all the way to the end zone.

- Shaun Nua saw reps with the first team.

- Lance Pendleton broke a bone in the finger of his throwing hand and will miss the rest of spring practice.

Crowton indicated they are looking at the possibility of switching Pendleton to DB in the future. He said they are going to assess the situation and see if they can move him over in time for fall football.

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