Cougars take time for fun
LAS VEGAS - Instead of balancing the books with football, Brigham Young's players are mingling preparation with partying this week.
The Las Vegas Bowl offers plenty for the Cougars and their opponent in Thursday's game, California. Tuesday's agenda included select players visiting a hospital, a buffet for the teams and pep rallies.
"There's a lot of activities, as we knew there would be," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "The players are having a fantastic time. I think they're taking full advantage of everything the bowl has provided for them."
Sleep is about the only thing BYU is missing out on.
"When the bus arrives for practice, we're thinking about practice and not whatever Las Vegas has to offer," said offensive lineman Jake Kuresa. "When you're done, you're done. You also need to be able to turn it off just as much as you need to turn it on."
BYU reserves each morning for football, starting with a 7:45 wake-up call. The team breaks off into position meetings from 9:15 to 10:35 a.m.
Practices begin at 11 a.m., lasting from one hour to 75 minutes. Cal coach Jeff Teford has been holding two-hour practices.
"With the extra preparation, we took advantage of it on the front end rather than the back end," Mendenhall said. "We have a number of injuries offensively and defensive linewise that's limited or prohibited contact. To risk that at this point didn't make sense."
Besides his ability and leadership skills, Fahu Tahi has made a contribution to BYU's program that could extend far into the future.
The big knock against BYU's new system was that it ignored running backs. Tahi buried that theory, playing a pivotal role in the offense this season as a senior.
BYU coaches can point to Tahi's production in recruiting.
"If there's a back out there who thinks they can do what Fahu has done, we'd love to recruit you," said offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
The offense is patterned after Texas Tech's, which is heavy on passing. Anae served as Tech's offensive line coach from 2000-04.
Anae did little to dispel the reputation in his first game as BYU's coordinator. In the 20-3 loss to Boston College, he went almost exclusively with the pass.
As September ended and Anae knew what he had, Tahi and Curtis Brown began to flourish.
"A lot of people, because of the Texas Tech model, have discredited our ability to use the running backs," Anae said. "But we've been able to utilize Fahu and his talents to a pretty good level. The same can be said with Curtis."
Cal is playing in its third consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1948-50. BYU is back in a bowl for the first time since 2001.
While almost all of the Bears have postseason experience, only a handful of Cougars have played in a bowl game.
Four seniors - cornerback Chris Hale, defensive ends T.J. Sitake and Justin Maddux, and Tahi - lettered as freshmen during the 1999 Motor City Bowl season. All three players redshirted one season and served a two-year church mission.
Linebacker Paul Walkenhorst played in the 2001 Liberty Bowl. Defensive lineman Manaia Brown was a freshman on Nebraska's 2001 Rose Bowl team.
Several Cougars redshirted during the 1999 or 2001 seasons.
BYU's coaches have combined to coach in 47 bowl games, led by Lance Reynolds with 16.
"He knows exactly what it's like," said quarterback John Beck. "I think he's done a good job of helping us to prepare."