Whalen Almost at Full-Strength; Backs Brathwaite

On the heels of the best spring, off-season and fall camp he's had since he came to BYU, junior running back starter <b>Marcus Whalen</b> was totally primed and prepared to showcase his substantial running skills on the gridiron this fall. Then a thunderbolt struck on a clear blue-sky day.

Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, a mini-disaster struck when a fellow teammate accidentally stepped on his foot during warm ups for the Georgia Tech game, causing a hairline fracture to his foot.

"I was just running through pre-game drills when my foot got stepped on. The cleat went right through and cracked a bone. The crack was so tiny that it barely showed up on x-rays, but it was there and I couldn't go. It was unbelievably frustrating," Whalen told TotalBlueSports.com today.

"I try not to think about it too much, because it came right after one of the best off-seasons I've ever had. I went injury-free during the spring and during two-a-days and played really well. To have that happen to me right before our first game couldn't have been more frustrating."

Indeed, Marcus Whalen was the talk of spring heading into fall camp. He was practicing again at full speed yesterday and today for the first time since his freak foot injury.

"It feels fine now. I wouldn't say I'm at 100% quite yet, but it's definitely feeling better and it's getting better every day. Monday, I could feel the pain when I cut laterally and it affected me a bit when I did cut. Today, I didn't feel much of anything," Whalen said.

While he strives to regain full game speed, he will be the back-up Saturday to speedster Reynaldo Brathwaite, who has been very impressive in Whalen's absence.

There is no question is his mind who the starter will be when he is fully recovered. "I just want to help the team for the most part, but we went through all of spring and two-a-days to decide and prove who should be the starting running back. I won the spot, so I still consider myself the No. 1 running back on the team, but I'm willing to do whatever coach feels is best," Whalen said truthfully.

"Right now, Rey is playing real well and I'm still a little gimpy. He's (Coach Crowton) doing what's best for the team and that's what I want, so we'll ride Rey for right now," he added.

Crowton noted that Brathwaite playing this fall was in doubt right up the start of fall camp. "Rey came in with a hurt knee, so he wasn't able to do anything for us last fall. This spring, he came in on the borderline academically. He had to pass every class with a C average or better. He then had to pass summer school and that last class that he passed took him right up until the day of fall camp. We weren't sure whether we'd have Rey or not."

Brathwaite also did not show anything during spring ball and fall two-a-days that would give any indication he'd be BYU's primary back after the first three games of the season. Crowton said his dazzling performance filling in for Whalen has been eye-opening.

"We're learning about Rey now because he's playing more and he doesn't have any injuries or questions about his academics. That's been a little bit of a challenge for us because we didn't have spring or fall practice to experiment, as maybe we could have or should have, based on the uncertainties we had at that time," Crowton added.

He continued, "Rey is a very bright kid. His academic situation was a result of him just adjusting and a lot of players go through that. Rey is a real good kid and he's doing a great job for us."

PRACTICE NOTES:

* Scott Jackson remains probable for the Stanford game. Crowton said, "We'll probably start Hanale (Vincent) and see what he does and use Jackson if we feel like we need him."

* Toby Christensen will likely to return punts again this week against Stanford. "David Christensen can do it, but I don't want him to get his shoulder separated again."

* Crowton said he wants to phase out Brathwaite's return opportunities on kickoffs as he assumes more of a key role on offense. Some possible candidates for kickoff returns include James Allen, Nate Soelberg, Micah Alba, Chris Hale, Thomas Stancil and Brett Cooper.

"We're trying to get a good rotation there. As we get healthier as a team, the kickoff rotation will become more settled. What Coach Tidwell wants to do is put the right people in – (based on) how the team we're playing against is kicking it. If they're kicking it high and short, then he tries to put in someone that is a little more sure-handed. Conversely, if they're kicking it long and maybe a bit lower, then we try to put people back there that are really fast and that can get downfield."

* Naufahu Tahi has been switched to fullback until Taufui Vakapuna is ready to return. "Fahu has been playing at fullback all week and we like how he's performing there."

* Tight end Justin Jory is still listed as questionable for the Stanford game.

* Defensive tackle Manaia Brown is still not participating in full contact drills and is questionable for Saturday's game.

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