BYU Has "Versatile" Stable of Running Backs

BYU goes into the 2003 season with a diverse and deep set of very talented running backs.

"A word I'll use a lot with our running backs is ‘versatile.' We have a lot of good running backs and they're all diverse in their respective abilities. Most of them are also versatile in what they can do individually," running back coach Paul Tidwell told yesterday.

Leading the RB corps for BYU will be junior Marcus Whalen. Whalen is raring to go after what he deemed an unsatisfactory year. "I wasn't happy with how we ended last season. We started out well, but got down after a few losses and didn't work as hard as we could have."

"Personally, I felt I started off well, but faded as the year went on. Having last year's experience behind me and knowing what it takes both mentally and physically will help me out a lot."

Leading Whalen out of the backfield from the fullback position will be Fui Vakapuna.

Tidwell commented on Vakapuna: "Fui is a very versatile player for a guy of his size. He's our starting F-back right now, which is basically a fullback and we'll use him there in our two-back sets."

Though he has not played that position before, Vakapuna was looking forward to the challenge: "I love it. I get to lead block and I like that. I also get to catch some passes out of the backfield and run some screens."

Vakapuna's duties will not be entirely limited to the F-back role.

"I wouldn't be afraid at all at putting Fui as the back in our one-back sets either. He ran a 4.5 this year at 228, so I think that he can be a one-back type of ball-player. Also early in camp, he's shown that he can be a good receiver and catch the ball out of the backfield, which is important in this offense."

Whalen is excited about Vakapuna: "The first year I was here, I had Sitake blocking for me and that was awesome. I feel that I do real well with a lead blocker, so I'm really excited to have Fui blocking in front of me. He can also run the ball real well, he's a stud," Whalen added.

Adds Vakapuna: "I just want to help the team and I want to play if the coaches feel that I can help the team. I love playing fullback. It's a lot of fun and a good challenge for me."

Whalen's primary back-up will be sophomore Fahu Tahi. Tahi has trimmed down to around 220 pounds and showed great mobility and speed during the spring and into the fall.

"I've lost a lot of weight since my freshman season before my (LDS) mission. I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm ready to go. I feel that I'm really good up the middle and around the edges. I'm probably not as fast as Marcus (Whalen) around the edges, but I'm happy with my speed at this point."

Other running backs expected to see playing time this year are Thomas Stancil and Reynaldo Brathwaite.

Coach Tidwell said "Stancil and Brathwaite's strengths are their speed, obviously. They both have sprinter type speed and are quick around the edges. Stancil and Brathwaite both know how to shake and have the make-you-miss type qualities more than the other backs.

"While Marcus and Fahu are good at pounding it up the middle and running over guys, Brathwaite and Stancil are good at making guys miss, which gives us a good variety. Rey is a low 4.4 guy and Thomas is a mid-to-low 4.4 guy, so they're really going to benefit us with their speed and give us a lot of versatility at the running back position."

Tidwell also commented on the options for returning punts and kick offs. "Right now, our punt returners will be David Christensen, Toby Christensen and Nate Soelberg. Micah Alba is also an option, so we'll probably go with one of those four guys. We'll have to see how they do as practice goes on."

Regarding BYU's kick return options this fall, Tidwell said "we have Dave Christensen back that averaged 21 to 22 yards for us last year. We also have James Allen back, who I think will be excellent returning kicks if he can stay healthy.

"We'll also try Rey Brathwaite and Thomas Stancil back there and see what they can do. We're also going to look at Kip Neilson, who runs a high 4.3 forty. So we have a good stable of possible kick returners. We just need to settle on a couple of them."

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