Poppinga and the rest of the likely starters at linebacker will be backed up and indeed pushed by a group of very talented and anxious underclassmen. These up-and-coming underclassmen who are impressing include Shawn Doman, Terrance Hooks, Dan Van Sweden and Austen Jorgenson, among others.
"We're deep," said senior linebacker Markell Staffieri. "We're probably deeper at linebacker this year than in any year I can remember. Those young guys are proving they can play and improving with every practice. I'm more familiar with the inside guys and I can see this spring that guys like Shawn Doman and Terrance Hooks have really improved."
Hooks Taking the Hits
Hooks came to BYU with next to no experience playing the linebacker position, having logged his minutes at running back in high school. Now that he has had a full two years to grow and develop, Hooks is beginning to see the dividends of the work he's put in.
"It's a work in progress, just trying to grow and get better every day," said Hooks. "My goal is to become one of the premier linebackers on the team and in the conference and I feel that I'm working hard to get there."
Playing the inside linebacker position is as physically demanding as any position on the field, as during any given play they're asked to take on a myriad of blockers, including 300-plus pound linemen. While taking on these imposing blockers they're also asked to be the primary playmakers in the new 3-4 defensive system.
"We have to do it all," said Hooks. "I love it since we're part of the action all the time."
The action in which Hooks was able to engage himself in during his first years at BYU was limited due to the lack of weight and muscle required of an inside linebacker at the Division 1 level. Instead of taking on blocks while scrapping to the ball-carrier to make the play, Hooks was finding himself on his back during too many plays.
"I had to get bigger," said Hooks. "You need to be ready to take on whatever they throw at you and I wasn't able to do that as well as I am now. You have to take on blocks, retain your balance and make plays. I'm doing that a lot better this spring."
Hooks has become a gym rat in order to get bigger. He arrived at BYU at just under 210 pounds, but has reported to spring camp at 235 pounds. This will enable him to compete much better at the inside linebacker position.
"I feel I've retained my speed while getting a lot stronger," said Hooks. "I feel that I can take on guys and hold my own now. I feel a lot more confident in my reads and I really feel that I can help the team more this year. I did well on special teams last year and I want to be on special teams again this year because I love playing it, but I definitely expect to help more on defense this year."
Hooks' improved play has caught the notice of his older and more experienced teammates, because when he's been asked to step in for them he's stepping in at a much higher level.
"Terrance has improved for sure," said Staffieri. "He's added a lot more weight and strength, which is crucial for the position. He's more confident because of it and you can see it."
Hooks has been taking it all in and seeing steady reps with the 2s with every practice. Most of the practices have seen Hooks very active in and around the ball, whether it be jumping swing passes in the backfield, rushing the quarterback or filling the gaps on running plays. He has been taking notes and is applying the notes taken this spring.
"I've had so many good players to learn from, great players like Cameron [Jensen], Markell and Pop [Poppinga]," said Hooks. "I'd be a complete fool not to learn everything I can from them. We're going to have great linebackers this year and I just want to help out wherever I can this coming year while pushing for that starting position."