"J.J. has made a massive jump," said running back coach Lance Reynolds. "He's breaking quicker, he's more confident in the offense, and you can see that he's strutting around a little bit like he thinks he's pretty good, which is great."
Indeed, DiLuigi is doing everything better these days, which is important since there is a void to be filled at running back with the loss of Manase Tonga. DiLuigi fully intends to fill that void the best he can.
"I want to play," said DiLuigi. "I just want to be out there and help the team as much as possible, but to do that you have to make sure you improve so that you can help them out there."
As Coach Reynolds consistently says about the type of running backs he's looking to play, DiLuigi needs to show coaches that he "won't screw up." With all the blocking and reads a BYU running back has to make, it's not as easy as just taking the ball and looking to make yards up the field.
DiLuigi spent at least five minutes with Coach Reynolds after Wednesday's practice discussing specific things to work on. So what was discussed?
"Blocking," answered DiLuigi. "That's what we went over today. I meet with Coach as much as possible, at least every day to learn what I need to do better."
While DiLuigi was the main go-to guy as a prep athlete, he was hardly called upon to block at all. Now that he's at BYU looking for a role in the offense, his blocking ability has become one of his chief focal points.
"Everyone has to block except the quarterback," said DiLuigi. "It's a huge part of this offense and this offense being good. It doesn't matter if you get the ball, it's our job to block and to block hard and accurately on every play, so that's something I'm really focusing on this fall."
More Speed Please
DiLuigi has also worked hard to work on his overall speed and quickness out of his breaks. Being fast and quick certainly aids any running back, and with an added step or two this fall, DiLuigi is starting to establish himself as someone who can play and get the job done.
"I think I lost some of my quickness because of my injury, so this offseason I really worked on getting more quick in my breaks," explained DiLuigi. "And it's paid off so far. I'm much more fluid out there and I feel like I'm faster and able to get to spots faster."
All of DiLuigi's progress has been readily noted by Reynolds, who likes what he sees.
"I think he's more confident in what we're doing," said Reynolds of DiLuigi. "He's functioned better, he knows the offense better and he's starting to get himself in a position where we're not worried about putting him in a game. He's working good every day and making good progress."
Along with DiLuigi, Wayne Latu has continued to progress. Latu has made some big runs in drills and Coach Reynolds feels that when they strap on the pads and do contact drills, Latu will shine.
"Wayne Latu is playing really good," said Reynolds. "Some of the things he's really had a hard time with he's getting better [at], and he's getting more confident and more ready. Yesterday he had a great practice both blocking and receiving, and the best thing he does is run the ball, and we're not doing much of that right now. So when we put our pads on, that's when Train [Latu] will really shine."
Vakapuna Working Back into Shape
Coach Reynolds was positive about Fui Vakapuna's recovery from a sore hamstring.
"He's not in my dog house," stated Reynolds regarding Vakapuna. "He's just hurt, so what do you do? I've been hurt, you all have been hurt, and when you're hurt, you're hurt."
Reynolds mentioned that Vakapuna is making progress, and that when he gets ample time to warm up he's fine. The hope is that Vakapuna can continue to progress and reach the point where he can play at full speed and man the starting fullback spot.
Tryouts at Fullback
Coach Reynolds mentioned that the three top fullbacks right now in descending order are Fui Vakapuna, Kaneakua Friel and Kelly Bills. Coaches are using Friel in sort of the same way they used Vic So'oto when he was on offense and was switched between the fullback and tight end positions.
A lot is yet to be determined in the Cougar backfield regarding who besides Harvey Unga will be playing the major roles. We'll be watching the position carefully and noting any and every player movement that takes place.