Cougs Are Still Fired Up

The pre-season routine is beginning to get old in the Cougar camp. Players are tired of lining up across from the same teammates in drill after drill. The game plan is set, and being committed to memory. Storylines have been hashed and rehashed. The uber-fans have analyzed every stat and quote coming out of Provo and Tucson. There is not much left to do but play ball.

"It's time," said Cameron Jensen. "I'm mean, you've been in the weight room all summer long, you've been hitting your own players for so long and it's just time to get out there and play."

As the defensive team captain, Jensen feels that his defense is more than ready for this weekend's game against the Wildcats of Arizona.

"We're excited to go down there and play against a team like Arizona," Jensen said. "We, as a defense, feel we are well prepared. Right now we'll have three days to kind of ease it up a bit to get our legs back, but it's time to go down there and play a game."

The team's fire is not fading just because they have been in practice for so long. There is still the occasional skirmish between offensive and defensive players. The tussles only serve to energize the team, as was the case today.

After a shoving match between offensive and defensive personnel, running back Fui Vakapuna got the last shot int. He busted through the O-line, lowered his shoulder and pancaked the defender who got into it with the offense. The scout defense got the hint and all returned to normal.

"No way are we letting up," said Jensen. "Especially on defense because we feel we have a lot to prove on the field as a defense. We feel we're a defense much improved. I know the offense wants to get out there and score some points. We're all excited and feel that we're well prepared on both sides of the ball and we all want to play."

Coach Mendenhall wants his best 11 players on the field so he gave up the 3-3-5 defense that he spent the last decade perfecting and brought in a 3-4. With the emphasis on the linebackers instead of the defensive backs, BYU has more talent on the field and more depth on the bench defensively.

"We're so much better this year," Jensen said. "We're so much more confident and we have better experience in key positions this year. We also are a defense that possesses more athleticism all the way around. We have a lot more playmakers and it's an entirely different defense from last year."

With quicker bodies on the defensive line and the speed of the four linebackers behind them, Jensen feels the over all increase of team speed is up from last year as well.

"Bryan Kehl, David Nixon and Chris Bolden on the outside and all these young fast guys [on the D-line] have helped increase the overall speed of the defense," said Jensen. "We also have Dustin Gabriel and Quinn Gooch back from last year, and they're speed guys. With our cornerbacks Ben Criddle, Justin Robinson and Kayle Buchanan back from last year, our defense should see some improvement there as well. We're a much better defense than last year, and we're just ready to go."

Supplement better team speed with depth and it is easy to see why Jensen is more optimistic about the defense.

"We're a lot deeper than last year at key positions so that will help us be able to maintain a higher level of play and intensity," said Jensen. "It will also help keep up fresh as well, and that's a great thing to have."

Comeback Kids

Linebacker Markell Staffieri has been suiting up and practicing with the team after missing much of the beginning of fall camp with a leg injury. As part of te treatment program the training staff appealed to direction from LDS scripture.

"The bruise is gone," said Staffieri of the deep thigh bruise he suffered. "The trainers put tobacco leaves on my leg and pulled that bruise right out. It's pretty much gone now."

Staffieri was moving around the practice field without a limp in his stride. Inside linebacker Aaron Wagner has been practicing with the first team defense and feels prepared for the responsibility.

"I'm ready to go," Wagner said. "I'm just sick of looking at our guys everyday and want to get going. I'm excited for Arizona."

After suffering a leg injury last season, Wagner has put in the time and effort to climb back into position with the first team defense. Wagner said he feels 100 percent recovered from the leg injury of last season.

"I'm good and my leg feels fine," Wagner said. "It's not bothering me at all and I feel good. I'm just ready to play."

Wagner the Younger

Aaron Wagner's younger brother Jadon Wagner, who committed to BYU last year, will be home next month from serving his mission in Denver, Colorado. According to Aaron, his brother has been working out with the Denver Broncos' 5:00 a.m. morning workout team.

"He's getting pretty big," Wagner said. "He's about 250 pounds right now and is looking forward to coming here and getting started. He'll be good and he's excited to play. He'll enroll in January and be here to practice with the team during spring camp."

Bryce Mahuika Is Back

Having missed most of fall camp, Bryce Mahuika is back at a 100 percent from his hamstring injury and is working his way back into the first team offensive lineup.

"The hamstring was bugging," laughed Mahuika. "I tried to come back two or three times but wasn't running at full speed, so the coaches decided it would be best for me to rehab it because it could probably go out again. They wanted me to wait and come back when I was 100 percent, so I said okay and gave it a couple of more days. So since last Friday I've been back at 100 percent practicing with the team and I feel good running around. There's no bugging from my hamstring anymore. No one is ever going to feel 100 percent because you'll always have the little bruise here and there, but do I feel good enough to play football? That would be a yes."

BYU coaches now want Mahuika to work his way back into the offensive rotation.

"I think it's only fair with the other guys practicing and putting in the work to get the chance to play," Mahuika said. "I don't think it would be fair for me to just come in and say, ‘Okay I'm healthy now so put me back in right at the top.' I have to come out here and pay my dues and work my way through the plays. I have to show the coaches that I can play and different things like that. Hopefully I can do that soon."

So will Mahuika get any playing time during the Arizona game?

"For this game I don't really know," said Mahuika. "If the coaches want to throw me in this game, I'm ready, but like I said, the other guys have been practicing and doing the game plan a little more than I have. If I don't get a chance to play this game hopefully by Tulsa I will be able to."

Despite possibly not being able to play on the field against Arizona, Mahuika said he will still contribute to the team off the field by getting his teammates fired up prior to the game.

"Now that I think about it, that's probably the one reason why I'm traveling with the team," said Mahuika about his role at team morale booster. "They gotta have someone lead the team in the Haka, so I guess that's my contribution. I gotta get everyone fired up to play, so me and Hala [Paongo] will be out there getting everyone fired up. We'll be doing it at every home and away games scaring the opposing fans."


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