Identity is the Difference

Prior to the opening kickoff last year, the Cougars entered the season with fresh new faces, of which many were years removed from the sport of football after serving LDS missions. What type of personnel and collective abilities the team had were relative unknowns. This year, things are drastically different.

Through graduation and the influx of new talent returned from serving LDS missions, the Cougar football team was a relative enigma last year. The scope of uncertainty regarding the team last year lead Cougar coaches and players to wonder exactly what they had and what was feasible. In a time in which BYU just came off an undefeated season in the Mountain West Conference, discovering potential was the underlying pursuit.

"I believe last year the offense was fairly new," Austin Collie said. "We had a lot of guys coming off missions, news guys stepping up or people replacing guys, so we were fairly new. As an offense we were pretty new and we had some guys that needed to step in, so in reality we were a team with a big question mark."

As the season wore on, the Cougars and their coaches began to learn more about the team they were developing, and what kind of a team they could become with every new challenge and every new goal reached.

"I think it was hard for us to really know who we really were," said Collie. "I think finding out more of what we could do or who we were came with playing experience over time. I think it took time for us to know that we were one of the best teams in the nation and we'll take whatever comes at us.

"Not many guys knew their roles last year, including me. I think that is how it was with many guys on this team. We were just going about our business kind of blind and testing things out to see what exactly our capabilities were, and I think we had a very successful season last year despite some of those things, which is kind of scary."

With every game the Cougars became more confident in their abilities. With that confidence, the team has gained a bit of swagger in their step this year.

"We didn't really have that swagger, but this year I think things have changed where we know what we can do and now have that swagger," said Collie. "We think we can hang with any team in the nation. We know what our goals are and I believe they're reachable, and everyone has that mindset on the team and that's really helping us out."

With their newfound confidence in their abilities, the BYU coaches still continue to break down players and work on basic fundamentals. Having confidence and swagger doesn't mean things get easier. In fact it becomes quite the opposite.

"We always work on fundamentals and position mastery, which keeps you grounded," said Collie. "We always go back to fundamentals to always make sure you know what it is that you're good at, and I think that is something this team has done a phenomenal job at. The coaches do a great job in making sure that we stay focused on the little things in order to achieve greater things. Every single one of our guys on this team knows exactly what roles they play and how to win. We do try and do too much thinking, we can play outside of ourselves, and that keeps us grounded, and I think this is what is going to put us over the top this year because we know what our potential is."

Now comes the pressure to perform and meet personal expectations. Knowing what they can do and how well they can do it means everyone is watching to see if the Cougars can maintain their success or even build upon it.

"I think the team does feel a little bit of the pressure," Collie said. "I think it's good because you have to have a reason to have that drive. People now know what to expect of us, so we have to work even harder to make sure we can get the job done, not to please others but to ensure we reach our own high expectations as a team."

Success breeds even more success, and most of the Cougars caught the vision over the summer. The attitude of personal and team improvement - knowing what was within their reach - fueled greater effort over the summer.

"It showed over the summer how much this team expects to win and improve upon last year," said Collie. "We knew what exactly we have in store for us and we don't want to screw it up. That is why we had so many guys stay over summer and go the extra mile. We had so many guys come and participate to get better because they knew the position we were in."

Last year Coach Mendenhall and his staff used the motivating theme of "Raise the Bar" to instinctively instill within their charges a sense of self-improvement. Having finished last season as the nation's ninth-ranked offense despite being relatively unknown and unproven at the beginning of the year, the Cougars have now reached a point where they believe they can focus their attention on personal perfection.

"This year's theme is ‘The Quest for Perfection,'" said Collie. "Many people mistakenly think that this means a perfect season by going undefeated. In reality it has a little more depth to it than that. We know what our calling is out here on the football field as well as on this earth. We have to be the best examples as possible, and I think this team is doing an exceptional job at that.

"I think Coach Mendenhall makes sure that we do an exceptional job at that. It's just an awesome thing to see that this team not only gets it done on the field but off the field, in the classroom and out in the world. Really, the quest for perfection means perfect in all things, and that's what our focus is and why we are here on this earth. It's a goal that we should all have regardless of attainability, and that's the mentality we have as players and as a team."


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