2004 Football Preview: Running Backs

It's difficult to wax philosophical or put out a really positive spin when your team loses three valuable running backs expected to figure prominently in 2004. Yet that's what BYU head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> must do without projected starters <b>Reynaldo Brathwaite</b> and <b>Marcus Whalen</b> and key backup <b>Thomas Stancil</b>.

Brathwaite and Whalen departed because of off-season Honor Code violations and Stancil's departure was apparently academic-related.

Fortunately for the Cougars, its running back cupboard is far from bare.

EXPERIENCED RETURNEES:

Headlining BYU current crop of backfield runners is redshirt sophomore Curtis Brown, who set a BYU true freshman running back record two years when he exploded for more than 220 yards in the Utah State game. Brown has effectively used his redshirt year to add significant muscle mass without losing his speed.

As the lead 2003 season scout team running back, Brown gave the Cougars' first and second team defenders all they could handle in practice. After a successful spring practice session, Brown has established himself as Crowton's top option at running back.

Though he may not have the explosiveness of Brathwaite, Brown is now apparently stronger and more durable. He is the sort of back that doesn't do one thing exceptionally well, but does all things very well. He's dependable and has emerged a widely respected player-leader, winning the confidence of his offensive teammates with his off-season work ethic.

NAUFAHU TAHI

Right up there with Brown at running back is junior Naufahu Tahi, who played primarily as a fullback last season. Tahi was a true freshman starter with Luke Staley before his LDS mission and has yet to show the explosiveness and quickness he showed then. Tahi struggled a little finding his groove last year, but ended the season strong. A reliable pass-catching back, Tahi was especially dangerous and effective in catching and generating some long runs out of the backfield last season.

BRYCE MAHUIKA

Another intriguing option in the backfield is returned LDS missionary, Bryce Mahuika, who was highly recruited as a receiver from high school. With the unusual depth at wideout, Crowton said Mahuika's exceptional athleticism and game-breaking ability would be used to shore up the backfield ranks. Fall camp will likely determine how much impact he will have in his new position.

FULLBACK:

Former linebacker/defensive lineman Moa Peaua, the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior, was a reserve BYU linebacker/defensive lineman for three years and hopes to close out his senior year as a devastating lead-blocking fullback looking to pound opposing heads this fall.

MOA PEAUA

A Nevada All-State tight end as a prep star, Peaua is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield that that as apt to mercilessly knock heads with defenders as he is to evade them in power-runs up the gut or along the sideline.

Throughout his unfulfilled career so far at BYU, Peaua constantly fought and lost the battle to keep excess weight off as a linebacker. Unfortunately, he was also too short and not heavy enough to be a significant threat as a defensive lineman as well last season.

This is Peaua's year for redemption. He emerged in spring as an ideal, fearless powerback in the otherwise thin backfield ranks. At 260 pounds, Cougar coaches are hoping he will become a strategically effective and efficient weapon in its modified arsenal.

FRESHMAN NEWCOMERS:

Two Texans, both true freshman, join the Cougars this fall bringing an exciting aura of hopeful high expectations in B.J. Mathis and Raymond Hudson, Jr.

B.J. MATHIS

Mathis was primarily recruited for his breakaway speed and elusiveness as a special teams star, but Crowton may also maximize his game-breaking skills at either running back or wide receiver. Mathis has been impressively explosive in off-season conditioning workouts and 7-on-7 skeleton summer drills.

Hudson was a late academic qualifier who will formally join the Cougars Monday during the first day of fall camp. He received early recruiting attention from Clemson and Texas A&M and his mother contacted BYU coaches when she learned that Brathwaite and Whalen were no longer with the team.

Father Raymond Hudson, Sr., and his mother Tamara, who are divorced, discussed and decided to give their son a chance, agreeing to pay for his housing and schooling expenses in Provo. Hudson applied and has been accepted at BYU. Cougar coaches were hoping to keep his name under the radar as long as possible until he arrived in Provo on Tuesday. He is still recruitable by other colleges under the 25 scholarship limit for 2004 until he reports for fall camp on Monday.

Hudson was first-team all-district running back/wide receiver last season for Wharton High School, a 3A school in Texas, according to his father.

According to an article Thursday in the Deseret Morning News, one of Hudson's hobbies is power lifting. As a junior, he broke the Wharton running back record at 350 pounds in the bench press. He squatted 455 and had a 370 max on the power clean.

At 5-10, 185 pounds, Hudson has been clocked at 10.8 seconds in the 100 meters in track.

Hudson averaged just less than seven yards per carry for an 8-4 Wharton team, rushing for 1,150 yards and a dozen touchdowns on the ground, the Deseret News article said.

His father told TotalBlueSports.com several days ago that the family is aware of BYU's stringent Honor Code that forfeited Brathwaite and Whalen's final season in Provo. "Raymond is pretty religious (Baptist) and goes to Church all the time. He said he feels he can make the team and he'll do the right thing. I'm so proud of him that I'm speechless.

"A friend of his (son) told him about the possible opening at BYU. Everybody knows about BYU and Steve Young," his father said, adding "his mother and I talked about it and got the money together to send him there and pay for his apartment and school. She's the one that contacted the school and followed through with all that."

Because the Cougars had used its full allotment of 25 scholarship offers, they could not recruit or contact Hudson. However, he will become scholarship-eligible this fall (September) if the school extends him an offer. Hudson is also immediately eligible to play for BYU this season.

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