If he had a chance to knock on wood, Bronco Mendenhall probably would have. In his chat with reporters Wednesday, the BYU football coach said that as of mid-January, the only player who is leaving the football program for good is quarterback Jake Heaps.
"But I have been head coach long enough to know that, man, a lot changes," Mendenhall said. " Based on how spring goes, based on just life choices, academics can certainly play a role. But it seems to be the least volatile team. When I stood in front of them for our first team meeting after the bowl, and I looked out there, man, not many problems. So I don't expect many things, like in terms of transfers."
Mendenhall said safety Craig Bills, the Timpview High product who saw some playing time as a freshman before leaving on a church mission to Ventura, Calif., could have been back in time for spring ball (which starts March 5), but elected to stay out longer.
"It is a hard decision for those guys. He chose to extend and that was even though he knows how important spring is. But that just shows his priorities while he is out there. Knowing who he is, he will be back in time to train pretty diligently, not with the team but going into spring semester. So he will have a spring and summer semester, plus part of winter. If he's bigger, he might end up being a Sam [linebacker], But I haven't seen him since he left on his mission. The Sam and the Kat, back and forth, that's an either or, they are basically the same guy. Jordan Pendleton got a little bit bigger. He went from safety to [linebacker]. So that's an easy switch."
Here's a list of returning missionaries who will suit up for the Cougars next fall, including where they served and when they will be available:
Back for winter semester/spring camp in March:
WR Brett Thompson (Louisville, Ky.)
OL Terrance Alletto (Riverside, Calif.)
WR Mitch Mathews (Orlando, Fla)
OL Fono Vakalahi (Washington, DC)
QB Taysom Hill (Sydney, Australia)
QB Ammon Olsen (Mexico City, Mexico)
DT Russell Tialavea (Santiago, Chile)
Back for preseason camp in August:
S Craig Bills (Ventura, Calif.)
S Trevor Bateman (Fort Worth, Texas)
DT Tui Crichton (Houston, Texas)
DE Remington Peck (Rochester, N.Y.)
S Jacob Hannemann (Little Rock, Ark.)
DE Bronson Kaufusi (Auckland, New Zealand)
OL Brad Wilcox (San Bernardino, Calif.)
Here's the list of players who have headed out on missions or will be heading out in the next couple of months. Of these guys, defensive lineman Graham Rowley played the most in 2011.
Austin Heder – RB (Canada Montreal)
Graham Rowley – DL (Illinois Chicago)
Travis Tuiloma – DL (Western Samoa)
Gavin Fowler - DB
Colby Hansen - WR
Grant Jones - TE
Manu Mulitalo - OL
Zach Newman - LB
Va’a Nuimatalolo - LB
Baker Pritchard - DL
Stehly Reden - TE
Perhaps because of running back Josh Quezada's family situation (his brother died in a car accident in November), Mendenhall was asked Wednesday if he worries about Quezada staying in the program.
"We were counting on Juice, especially early on, to be the replacement [at running back], based on the year he had had before," Mendenhall said. "And he had a great offseason, then suffered a severe ankle sprain in the weeks leading up to fall camp. Juice is really good when he has the repetitions in practice. He will talk to you about that. That's how he is best, when he can get a ton of practice work.
He didn't hit his stride this year, piggybacking off year one, a lot of it because of the lack of preparation in practice with the window that was there. He's not a player that you can just throw in when he's healthy in the midstream of a season and say, 'now you are going to be normal.' That's just not how he is. We have learned that about him. He knows it about himself.
So we are anxious for him to stay at BYU. We are anxious for him to have a great offseason, a great spring, a great summer, and become that guy like he was as a freshman. And certainly he has contemplated what his role is, and how much he will be included, etc.
And we try to reassure him, because we all believe what his potential is, etc. It wasn't reflected this year, but it was as a freshman. We think with the right kind of preparation he will go back to that. We haven't had any conversations, nor have I had any indications from anyone that now he is planning to leave BYU. We have been as proactive as possible. ... If Juice chose not to be at BYU, I don't believe that [family issues] would be the reason."
Of course, several of the guys who will sign on Feb. 1 are already enrolled in classes, including Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen, the returning missionaries. Here's Mendenhall's update on how those two, specifically, are looking and how other RMs will fit in:
"We are really excited about the quarterbacks already, both Taysom Hill and [Ammon] Olsen," Mendenhall said. "They have really done a nice job of impressing the team, and choosing to throw extra, and getting off their mission and getting into condition, etc. They are really good athletes. So the trend of seeing Riley Nelson's mobility, and what Alex Kuresa has shown as the scout team quarterback, we like that style -- not only being able to throw it, but being able to run it as well.
So a lot of quarterbacks you will see in the system right now, and way we want in the future, will be more of the dual-threat type. And it doesn't mean they can't throw it. Because most times when you hear dual-threat you are thinking option and all that. That's not what I am saying. Just, I like the mobility, from a defensive perspective. It is really hard to handle those guys. Already, Taysom and Ammon have had an impact on the team.
So those two guys are here. We've got all the missionaries that have come back, which is fun. We've got Mitch Mathews and Brett Thompson and Russell Tialavea ... Terrance Alletto, Fono Vakalahi. They all look good, and they were good players here before, so it is fun to have all those guys back. .
Russell has a fifth metatarsal, something happened on his mission, so there's a little piece of bone [in his finger] they got to take out, I don't know what it was. So he is going to get that removed. He will be training with us, but he won't be able to run and do all that. He will probably miss spring."