Fall Preview: What a Difference a Year Makes

Heading into fall practice next week, certain players have risen to the spotlight while others are looked upon with eager anticipation. Fans are anxious to see what newcomers like <b>Thomas Stancil, John Beck, Fahu Tahi, Manaia Brown, Chris Hale</b> and others will show during practice and games this season.

There is no shortage of would-be experts willing to render their sought-after impressions and season prognostication. In the final analysis, the players and coaches have to strut and show their stuff on the field of play.

Using last season as an indicator, none of us truly know what to expect this coming season. What BYU will prove to be may not become readily apparent until three games into the season.

Consider the following:

1. This time last year, no player received quite as much pre-season hype as Scott Young. Young fought hard to become eligible due to some academic discrepancies beyond his control. Indeed, many a Cougar fan assumed a lot of BYU's success for the 2002 season hinged directly on Young becoming eligible in order to shore up a weak defensive tackle spot from the year before.

I remember scratching my head as to why Young wasn't playing exclusively with the first team and busting through the line and wreaking havoc on virtually every play. What Young did prove as the season wore on that he was much better suited for the offensive line, a position he has transferred to with great success.

Ifo Pili's weight and regaining his legs after an LDS mission was another prominent topic with many fans. Along with Young, early predictors thought they would be an awesome tandem of stuff the middle against any teams they faced. That did not happen.

Pili contributed more and improved as the season progressed. Meanwhile, Daniel Marquardt proved to be an effective run stopper, but no one really excelled in a position many thought would be a BYU defensive strength before the season.

2. Jernaro Gilford was the other defensive player looked upon with high expectations, but his nagging knee injury hobbled him all season.

So much for all the anticipation, good news and optimistic diagnosis, Gilford was largely ineffective throughout last season, much to his own dismay and combined frustration of Cougar fans.

3. Despite the defensive line clamoring for Scott Young nuggets, no name was mentioned with more excitement than defensive end CJ Ah You, who looked very impressive the year before. While guys like Brady Poppinga and Brett Denney were relatively unknown and unproven, Ah You was the designated "sure thing" at DE.

But Ah You went down in pre-season fall practice with an ACL injury that kept him all season. He recovered and tried a comeback in November, but re-injured it in a non-football related incident. Though he is apparently fully healed, many have wondered about his off-season commitment to regular workouts. Consequently, the pre-season hype for him is not as high as it was last year.

4. Walt Williams, a highly touted defensive standout, has been a no-show and an enigma. Few have been able to even reach him, including BYU coaches at times.

Whether he reports to fall camp is still a mystery and the hype and hoopla for him excellent talents have been dampened significantly as a result.

5. BYU's offensive line was expected to be solid last year under the fiery inspiration and example of senior Ben Archibald. However, a freak injury in practice eliminated him for the season – and with it, it turns out, the hopes of a cohesive and effective OL unit.

While the OL showed well against Syracuse and Hawaii, it was all downhill from that point in large part because of a lack of chemistry and cohesiveness. No one knew how big a loss Archibald would be. No one else stepped up to assume his vital leadership role.

6. The excitement and high expectations surrounding quarterback Brett Engemann emergence was real and palpable. While there were question marks about other positions, Engemann and the quarterback position was not one of them in the pre-season.

After a very promising game opener against Syracuse, Engemann, for whatever reason, never completely found his game again. Crowton responded by trying to find a seamless fix with freshmen back ups Lance Pendleton and Berry and never succeeded.

However, Berry emerged as the best of the rest and enters this season as the main man to beat. From many accounts, he will be pushed in fall practice by true freshman John Beck.

7. After a lackluster campaign at free safety, Levi Madarieta is back this year at his natural linebacker position. By moving Madarieta to OLB, he and Colby Bockwoldt provide a level of speed and outside pursuit rarely seen at BYU.

Madarieta has received raves from defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall based on his effort and output during spring practice.

I could go on, but will stop there. Every season fans and coaches go into spring practice with certain expectations and the success of the team is largely determined by how well these expectations are met. When expectations aren't met, success often comes by players stepping up and surpassing the hype on them.

So here we are again with 2003 fall practices soon to begin. While we have a pretty rosy picture what the team will do and prove and which players will rise and shine, we can only wait and see what happens come August 28 when the Cougars of BYU take the field against Georgia Tech for the first game of the season.

Like many of you, I've written my list and I'll be checking it twice, hoping these fall warriors deliver a Christmas present of an undefeated season and a BCS bowl victory as the New Year's gift package.

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