BYU Football: Are backup linebackers ready if starters get injured again?

Although linebacker Ben Bywater was entering his third year on the program, only diehard BYU football fans knew him at the start of last season, and some only because his name is fun to say.

By the end of the 2021 season, however, the Olympus High School product from Salt Lake City was almost a household name. He led the Cougars in tackles with 102 eliminations, 34 more than compatriot Max Tooley.

Why is the Bywater case important?

Because if Bywater, Tooley, Payton Wilgar or Keenan Pili are injured again in 2022, like the last two were in 2021, BYU will need another Bywater-type linebacker to step in.

Will they be up to the task?

“I’m going to be real; I really believe in these guys. I don’t just say it. We have a lot of guys who can do that. We’ll be fine.” – BYU linebacker Ben Bywater on backups at his position

Bywater, Pili, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and linebackers coach Kevin Clune all nodded affirmatively when asked this question recently.

“I’m going to be real; I really believe in these guys. I don’t just say it. We’ve got a lot of guys who can do it,” Bywater said last week, clicking through the nominees’ names. “We’ll be fine.”

According to the depth chart released by BYU in June, Bywater’s replacements at linebacker Will are redshirt junior Jackson Kaufusi and second Josh Wilson, younger brother of Zach Wilson.

Pili’s replacement at Mike’s linebacker is redshirt senior Pepe Tanuvasa, who played defensive end last year and apparently excelled in the role, particularly as a pass thrower.

Tuiaki said Tanuvasa moved there last spring due to “a different need at a different time” and has been solid in his new position through five pre-camp training sessions. season.

“He’s a guy who has the ability to fall, but also the ability to rush, so Pepe brings us different strengths in different ways. We need him at Mike backer this fall, that’s why we have him. moved,” Tuiaki said.

Tanuvasa, who transferred from the Navy a few years ago, says it wasn’t his idea, but he’s happy to do whatever the coaches want in his final season at Provo.

“That’s what I had played growing up and in high school, as well as at Navy. I think it’s just a natural fit with what we’re trying to do on defense this year,” he said. declared.

Clune said the move was discussed by the entire coaching staff and approved by head coach Kalani Sitake.

“Every day we say, ‘Who are our top 11? Who are our top 20? Who are the guys who (should) have a role, whether it’s a third forfeit or a forfeit on the goal line?” he said. ”We’re trying to find the best place for Pepe to be part of everything.

The offseason depth chart lists senior Chaz Ah You and junior Redshirt Tooley as co-starters at Flash linebacker. However, Ah You did not attend fall camp because he was not allowed to return from an injury that has sidelined him since the middle of last season.

Wilgar serves as Rover linebacker. His replacement is listed as redshirt junior Tavita (pronounced: Kuh-Vee-Kuh) Gagnier, who missed all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon but draws rave reviews from teammates whenever his name comes up. is mentioned.

“Tavita did a good job,” Tuiaki said. “He looks really, really good. He’s had a good fall camp so far.

Clune said Gagnier had good speed for a 6-foot-3, 225-pound man.

“He worked tremendously hard when he was injured,” Clune said. “He has speed. He played (defensive back) in high school and really picked up strength in his spare time. He used it very well. He put upper body strength, lower body strength.

Clune said the coaches are eager to see what Gagnier can do. Earlier in his career, a torn pectoral muscle prevented him from playing.

“He’s been in the boardrooms, watching practice, so he’s not like a new guy, although he hasn’t seen a lot of time,” Clune said. “He knows what to do. He’s mentally there.

Other camp linebackers trying to double up include recently returned missionaries Logan Pili (brother of Keenan), Michael Daley, Tate Romney (brother of catcher Gunner Romney) and Bodie Schoonover.

Veteran Morgan Pyper made his 2021 debut and is also hoping to crack the depth chart as a redshirt junior.

“We’ve got a bunch of RMs that really showed up,” Bywater said. “The future is bright.”

Tuiaki said Bywater and Tooley gained valuable experience last year that will make them more “dynamic” this year and more versatile.

“We have good players in these places,” Tuiaki said. “I think this piece is doing a really good job right now, and Kalani and Clune are doing a good job managing it.”

Keenan Pili said: “I’m really, really confident that the backups are ready to go. Jackson Kaufusi and Pepe Tanuvasa have played in big games and have experience. It’s really valuable.

Tanuvasa is already a graduate of the Marriott School of Business, majoring in finance, and is interning at Peak Capital in Provo this fall.

“I’m looking to land an acquisitions analyst position in private equity,” he said, confirming he’s moving on and not even thinking about giving professional football a chance. “That’s definitely it for me.”

Game time or not.

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