Vakapuna Credits O-line

Senior Cougar ball carrier Fui Vakapuna has ran behind many big men plowing the way before him in the past. However, there is something different about the offensive linemen leading the way this year.

Whether you call them big uglies, hogs, big men or just simply offensive linemen, no amount of success can be had without them. BYU returns a host of talented, experienced and well-tuned offensive linemen, two of which are up for multiple preseason awards.

"The more experience the better," said Fui Vakapuna. "These guys already have the talent, which is already amazing, but with each year they gain more and more experience. Their composure and how they work together is just amazing. These guys never get nervous and are very confident in what they're doing out there on the field."

BYU's current starting offensive line consists of four seniors. There is 6-foot-5-inch, 320-pound tackle and center Dallas Reynolds; 6-foot-5-inch, 348-pound guard Ray Feinga; 6-foot-5-inch, 313-pound guard Travis Bright and 6-foot-8-inch, 330-pound tackle David Oswald. Standout freshman offensive tackle Matt Reynolds is the only newcomer to the corps.

"They all know how to read defenses," Vakapuna said of the four senior starters. "That puts them all on the same page. They all make the calls because they all have the experience and know what to do. It makes it really easy on us running backs because they lay it all out for us when having to pick up the blitzes. Having all four of those guys stacked up on that line is a nice thing to have because it helps everyone in the whole offense know what to do. Then you have Matt Reynolds at the tackle position and he's doing really well, really well. It's been an awesome experience seeing how they work and make us better as ball carriers. They work hard and do their jobs better than anyone."

The offensive line's knowledge of defensive schemes and formations not only spreads greater confidence to other areas of the team, but it also makes assignments and reads easier for some of the skill position players.

"It's cool because the offensive linemen will shout out calls on what's going on," said Vakapuna. "You'll hear the center often times make a call or call out plays for us backs to know what to look for. Then you see the guards pointing things out while on the line. It's great because it's like a bunch of people working together to make sure we're all on the same page doing what we need to do to be successful."

Although each lineman is taught technique, the techniques can vary depending on the position they play. One thing that never changes for Vakapuna is how much he loves seeing a big man running downfield in front of him while he's carrying the ball.

"What we do is we try to set ourselves up to make the run," Vakapuna said. "Seeing guys like Travis Bright or Ray Feinga pull around the line ends up being a highlight for me, Harvey [Unga] or the other running backs. I love seeing those big guys running in front of me. The linemen and the running backs have to work together so we know what they can do and try to set ourselves up for it. Seeing those big guys run the way they do is pretty amazing. Those guys are like big ol' road graters plowing the way for us. Their style of play is smash-mouth football, which for guys like me and Harvey is fine."

Two seasons ago Vakapuna was a primary ball carrier running behind Manase Tonga, who is redshirting this year to work on academics. Vakapuna has gained a greater admiration for his teammate, having learned firsthand how blocking as a fullback is an art in and of itself.

"The mentality is different," said Vakapuna. "I don't know how Manase did it, but being a fullback, you have to be tougher. It's not just about running the ball now but also about taking somebody out, but first you have to know who you have to take out in that one-on-one situation. That means you have to find your angles. You have to find your man, then attack him at the right angle in order to give the running back a better angle to either run the ball or make cuts. I think finding angles as well as finding ways to attack and clear out holes for the backs is a skill in itself."

Being a successful back in the Cougar offense demands a player have several skill sets. If a running back is able to perform all three skill sets adequately, he becomes a complete back within the BYU offense.

"In this offense you can't just be a ball carrier," Vakapuna said. "You have to have the skills to block in the passing game as well as be able to block on the run. Then you have to be able to run routes like a receiver and catch the ball out of the backfield, so a running back has to have good hands. The coaches use the running backs in many different ways to attack the defense or allow others to attack the defense. On top of that we have to be good at running the football, so you have to have those abilities as well."

Indeed, these Cougar running backs have several responsibilities they must master within the offense, which is why some see the field while others have to work on further development.

"It's an awesome burden we carry by having one of the hardest jobs," Vakapuna said. "We have to not only do the things that help us become more of a complete back, but we have to find ways to not get covered by one defensive player. We have to make many players think about what we can do in the offense. By us working on the small things, we make bigger things happen."

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