Gary Crowton, who begins initial preparations today and tomorrow for the Cougars season-opener against Notre Dame Sept. 4 at LaVell Edwards Stadium."> Gary Crowton, who begins initial preparations today and tomorrow for the Cougars season-opener against Notre Dame Sept. 4 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.">

Two-a-Days Over, Cougars Prepare for Notre Dame

"We're ready to move on to play someone besides ourselves. We're not where we want to be yet, but I see us getting better with most practices and that is what you want. I like where we are as a team right now." That was Wednesday's status report from BYU head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b>, who begins initial preparations today and tomorrow for the Cougars season-opener against Notre Dame Sept. 4 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

While quarterback sophomore John Beck entered fall camp as the odds-on favorite to start because of his impressive off-season conditioning with teammates, junior Matt Berry surprised coaches and teammates during fall camp with his play and the fact his lingering hand injury was totally healed. Berry also worked out quietly with a quarterback-specialist personal trainer over the summer.

While it is now clear the Cougars will be missing much anticipated JC wide receiver transfers Michael Morris and Joe Griffin this season because of injury, Crowton finds himself in an enviable position of not being overly concerned. He confirmed yesterday that he will definitely not redshirt freshmen Austin Collie, B.J. Mathis and Antwaun Harris, fresh from high school, and junior college receiver Riley Weber. The acknowledged star of the 2004 receiver recruiting class Todd Watkins provides explosive game-breaking abilities the Cougars have rarely seen.

Meanwhile, injured defensive tackles Daniel Marquardt and Isley Filiaga resumed non-contact drills with the team yesterday.

Wednesday's practice focused on special teams coverages and returns with B.J. Mathis, Antwaun Harris, Micah Alba, Saia Hafoka and Bryce Mahuika taking turns returning kicks. The offense practiced passing drills.

Following drills, the team worked on red zone drills from 10 yards out. Highlights: B.J. Mathis caught a 10 yard pass from running back Raymond Hudson scored on a 2 yard option play from Jason Beck. Defensive end Shaun Nua batted down a John Beck pass; Running back Curtis Brown scored a touchdown on an impressive three yard run; Jason Beck again connected on a pass to Matt Smith that was just shy of the end zone; Running back Raymond Hudson scored on a two-yard option play from Jason Beck; Cougarback Aaron Francisco and cornerback Nathan Soelberg knocked down a Matt Berry pass attempt to Rod Wilkerson; Katback O'Neil Howell had a great knock down of a pass to Austin Collie; Linebackers Adam Nelson and Ryan Beck stopped Harris just short of the end zone on a pass completion out in the flat; Defensive end Judd Anderton stopped Bryce Mahuika for a 5-yard loss on a fourth and one attempt.

Sophomore defensive end Michael Marquardt continued to see reps with the first team. "I like it, I like it a lot," Marquardt said. "You want to fight to get to where you play with the ones and I want to continue to work and play where the coaches feel I can play."

Marquardt was a very highly touted recruit from Southern California and saw playing time during the 2001 season. He then left for an LDS mission that was shortened after 14 months by a patella tendon tear. He returned home for another major operation and recuperation. He is fully healthy now. He noted the biggest challenge coming back from his mission was "mostly physical. It's hard to get back your body into the shape it needs to be in. It takes a while. That's the biggest challenge. I know I can play. I feel like I can help this team now that I'm healthy. I feel that I'm just getting back physically from my mission and I'm just excited to get out there against Notre Dame."

He left for his mission playing under then-defensive coordinator Ken Schmidt and returned to an entirely different structure under Bronco Mendenhall. "Everybody's already bought into the system. You just learn from them and do what they did to be successful as a unit last year. I love how Mendenhall coaches. He rewards effort and demands effort and I like that."

One of the biggest assist factors for Michael was having older brother Daniel around. Daniel is a seasoned veteran entering his third season anchoring the defensive line interior. "Dan definitely let me know what to expect and really helped prepare me for what was coming, so nothing was really a surprise. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to play with my brother. He's going to be back real soon and I know he's anxious to get going again."

Michael left a BYU football program on top of the world with a 12-2 season in 2001 and he expects nothing less this season. "When I left, we were a great program and a winning program and I expect us to be there again this year. This is BYU and BYU wins football games. I'll not be satisfied with anything less than a winning season."

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