Spring Practice Report: Raising the Bar

After years of trying to restore the glory that once defined Cougar football, the team broke through with one of the most impressive seasons in BYU history. So is the glory back to stay? Is the team content on how they finished last year, or are there now new goals in mind?

"We're raising the bar," said linebacker Kelly Poppinga following the first day of practice. "We went 11-2 last year, but we're not content with that. We're going to raise the bar from last year, and you can figure out for yourself what that means. We're winning the conference, we're winning our bowl game, and we're going to raise the bar."

"Raising the bar means to not rest, to get better every day and with every practice," echoed running back Manase Tonga. "We lost some great guys, guys who will be hard to replace, but we need to step up, every single one of us."

It all starts with spring practice. The off-season practice time will serve as an opportunity for players to step up and show that they have what it takes to raise the bar and lead the team to further glory.

"We'll find out who those guys are this spring," said Tonga. "Like I said we lost a lot of great leaders last year, and we need to step it up, all of us. We need to bring it every day, and we'll find out who is ready and who needs some more work."

After an offseason where head coach Bronco Mendenhall raised the bar considerably in regards the overall regimen and workload, the team knows they can't rest upon what they did last season. The mentality is that they are not getting better and working as hard as possible, they are probably going to get worse.

"We're going to do it again," said linebacker Bryan Kehl regarding the team's plans for the coming season. "We had one good year, but what are we going to do this year? Sure, we had a good year last year, but so what? We're not satisfied, we're not going to rest. We want more. Last year gave a glimpse of what we can be, and we're going to do everything we can to get better and improve on what we did last year."

The first day of spring practices saw a little bit of rust and loss of timing inherent to most opening practice sessions, but what was apparent was an increase in enthusiasm, which has been encouraged by the coaches during the offseason. The enthusiasm was readily apparent on offense.

"I liked our enthusiasm," said Tonga. "We have some great young guys, guys like Max Hall. They're just so enthusiastic. They're going to be good. They're going to really help us."

On defense Poppinga felt that they needed to raise their level of enthusiasm to match what the offense brought during the first day of practices.

"It was a productive day," said Poppinga. "We were flying around, but I thought on defense we needed more enthusiasm to match what the offense had. They came out hyped and we need to match that."

The first day of practices saw the usual pursuit and skill drills coupled with 7-on-7s and no-contact 11-on-11 work. While it was to be assumed that the defense would be far ahead of the offense, initially the offense saw a surprising amount of success during the first day of spring practice.

Practice Notes

-Max Hall saw most of the reps with the first team and led the team down for what was really two touchdowns on the final drive, which was a two-minute drill. On this final drive Hall went 5-6 passing for roughly 65 yards capping off the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vic So'oto.

Highlights on the drive included a 30-yard pass to Austin Collie across the middle, which would have easily gone for a score, and an impressive 10 yard out completion to wideout Ryan Neely.

"It felt so good being out there," said Hall. "I've been waiting for this for so long, and now that it's finally here, it feels great."

-Cade Cooper meanwhile saw most of his reps with the second unit and saw some success as well as he works to grasp the offense after his first ever BYU practice.

Cooper's highlights included a nice 17-yard pass up the middle to tight end Dennis Pitta, which put the team in field goal territory. Cooper's main work included a bevy of underneath passes as he works to acclimate himself to the system.

Brendan Gaskins saw limited work with the second and third team units while Sam Doman was held out due to a minor abdominal strain.

-The first team offensive line had Sete Aulai at center, flanked by Travis Bright and Rey Feinga at the guard positions. David Oswald played right tackle with the first unit while R.J. Willing saw work at left tackle in place of Dallas Reynolds,who is being held out as he recovers from his off-season shoulder surgery.

-The second-team offensive line saw Mark Freeman playing center with Rick Wolfley and Walter Kahaialii as the guards. Nick Alleto played left tackle with the second-teamers with Jason Speredon on the other side at right tackle.

-The first team defense was the same as last year with Chris Bolden getting reps in place of David Nixon who is struggling with a groin injury. Markell Staffieri was also held out, which allowed Shawn Doman to get reps at one of the inside linebacker positions with Kelly Poppinga at the other. Kayle Buchanan manned the boundary corner position with the 1s, and Brandon Howard was at the field corner position.

-With the second team was Brett Denney, Kyle Luekenga and Sean Sullivan along the defensive line, and Dan Van Sweden, Rex Doman, Terrance Hooks and Austen Jorgensen behind them at linebacker. Scott Johnson and Andre Saulsberry manned the cornerback positions with Corby Hodgkiss and David Tafuna at safety.

-Austin Collie, Bryce Mahuika and Daniel Tervort took turns fielding punts and kickoffs

-As of right now, Mitch Payne is set to handle both the punting and kicking duties while Brett Denney and walk-on John Pace will compete at deep-snapper.

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