Spring Practice Report: Day Eleven

Not much was lost at the running back and full back positions from a season ago. Harvey Unga will again lead the charge and will be flanked by Manase Tonga and a revived Fui Vakapuna. Behind those three established players is a good mix of up-and-comers who are trying to make their mark on the practice field.

"We feel really good about the running back position with three very experienced guys," said running back coach Lance Reynolds. "Train [Wayne Latu] and J.J. [DiLuigi] are both playing really well and doing some good things, so we feel good with the front three, but we're still hunting for the fourth and fifth guy to put back there."

With Harvey Unga ready to assume the primary running back role and pick up where he left off last season, the search for who will be sharing backfield responsibilities with him looks to be assumed primarily by Fui Vakapuna. This spring Vakapuna has seemingly found his game while playing at both the running back and fullback positions.

"I don't really care where [Vakapuna] plays most," said Reynolds. "He can play either [running back or fullback] and he'll go in where he can help us most during situations during games. Fui knows both positions and can really help us out at either."

Vakapuna slugged his way through last season while showing lingering effects from the high ankle sprain he sustained during the 2006 season. So far this spring, Vakapuna has regained a lot of the same bounce and aggressiveness that led to his successful 2006 campaign.

"Fui is playing a lot better," mentioned Reynolds. "He's more aggressive this spring and running with a lot more confidence than he did last year. He looks like himself again."

With Vakapuna getting his groove back, he could be an option to rotate with Unga. Now that Vakapuna has some time in the program, coaches feel that he can help them in a greater variety of roles than he did in 2006.

"We're confident in what Fui can do for us," said Reynolds. "He's catching the ball well, he's blocking well and he's now old enough and experienced enough that he can help us in a lot of ways, and not just in running the ball. Fui will very likely play both fullback and running back during most games this year. He's had a very good spring so far and I'm excited for him."

More than Running

While running backs are obviously asked to run the football, as the very name of the position designates, BYU requires that they do a lot more. Indeed, taking a handoff and running the ball is only a small part of a BYU running back's responsibilities.

"We have to be confident when we put them in that they won't mess things up," said Reynolds. "When our running backs aren't where they should be or don't go where they need to go, then it really messes up what we can do offensively. They have to know exactly what to do, go exactly where to go, and then they need to make some plays."

Learning how to get open is chief among the running back's responsibilities, along with recognizing fronts and knowing when and who to pick up on pass rushes. Yes, very much is involved in being a BYU running back.

"Running the football is probably the easiest things our running backs do," commented Reynolds. "They all know how to do that, but it's the other things they have to show before we can feel confident to put them in during games. Knowing how to get open is probably the most difficult thing for them to learn. It's really an art form. They have to just have a good feel for what they can do [and] what works best for them, while recognizing the coverage. We need our running backs to get open consistently in this offense and it's not an easy thing to do."

Fourth and Fifth Spots

Those competing for the fourth and fifth spots at running back are freshman J.J. DiLuigi and junior Wayne "Train" Latu. Both have shown good things this spring in trying to earn spots behind the primary three options in the Cougar backfield.

"I'm trying, I mean, I'm working as hard as I know how," said Latu, who has again shown well in running the football in practices. "I know that I can run the ball well, but I feel I've really improved on the other parts of the game to get me on the field."

The chief thing Latu needs to work on according to Reynolds is catching the football. So far, Reynolds has seen improvement from Latu in that regard, which is due to Latu's hard work and, in no small degree, due to his wife as well.

"My wife helps me a lot," said Latu. "Just about every day we go over running patterns effectively, recognizing defensive fronts and everything else. She knows football very well and helps me out almost every day in working on my game."

"Wayne Latu has been running the ball well, real well this spring," said Reynolds. "We're anxious to see if he can work effectively in the other things, and if he can, then he's someone who could really help us since he already runs the ball so well."

Reynolds quickly acknowledges just how young DiLuigi still is, as the redshirt freshman missed practically all of fall camp last season due to a foot injury.

"You look at J.J. and he's just, what, 12 to 14 practices in?" said Reynolds. "He's young and he's learning, but he's shown us some good things as well. He catches the ball well and he's learning better every day just how to play in this offense. He's doing a good job."

While Latu and DiLuigi obviously provide depth at the running back position, its converted linebacker Kelly Bills that is making waves at fullback as he looks to back up both Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna.

"Kelly is doing really well," said Reynolds. "He's aggressive and he's learning a lot. He's taking what we're teaching him well and he's showing us a lot of good stuff out there."

Practice Notes

-Linebacker Terrance Hooks went down with an apparent knee injury during Thursday's practice. Hooks had to be carted off the field in what is believed to be a patella tendon injury. The exact nature and severity of Hooks' injury have yet to be determined.

-Max Hall shredded the defense, going 10-for-10 for 85 yards and a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. Hall completed a 20-yard pass to Austin Collie for his touchdown pass. On the day Hall completed two passes to Collie, three passes to Michael Reed and two more to tight end Dennis Pitta.

-Linebacker Shawn Doman intercepted a Hall pass during 7-on-7s on a pass intended for Pitta.

-Recruits Latu Heimuli and Josh Nunes were in attendance. Heimuli is a defensive tackle prospect from Highland High School in Salt Lake City, while Nunes is a quarterback prospect from Upland High School in Southern California. Nunes recently received a scholarship offer from BYU, while Heimuli received his a few months ago.

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