Provo • Bronco Mendenhall warned his BYU football team that there would be days like this. But the first day of preseason camp, in 90-degree heat, and for more than two and a half hours?
The Cougars held their first practice Thursday, and this year’s theme — better conditioning — quickly became apparent with a grueling, half-hour stretching and warm-up drill around 4 p.m., when the outdoor practice facility was at its hottest. Mendenhall made players start over several times until they got it right.
“He got our attention,” quarterback Riley Nelson said. “We have to learn to meet his expectations. We have asked him to hold us to a very high standard … that includes attention to detail, and precision, and effort.”
Overall, Mendenhall said he was happy with the effort and enthusiasm.
“It was just good to be back with the guys again,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do. … I think their preparation physically looks like it is a little bit past what I had expected it to be.”
Still, players struggled to complete the drills — especially a few offensive linemen — and there were some exhausted guys of all sizes when the work was done around 6:30 p.m.
Mendenhall reiterated Thursday that this preseason camp will include more scrimmaging — more of what he refers to as 11-on-11 “team” sessions — but there was little of that Thursday. And when there was, coaches didn’t move the chains.
“It is really easy [to answer why],” Mendenhall said. “Once the chains move, you are playing football. And when you are playing football, it is competitive. And when it is competitive, guys like to tackle. And when they tackle without pads, that’s the reason you put on pads. And we don’t have pads on today.”
Practice included more familiar faces than just the players; Mendenhall said former BYU quarterback Max Hall has joined the staff as a “student assistant” and will help offensive coordinator Brandon Doman with the quarterbacks; defensive lineman Jordan Richardson and safety Jray Galea’i, whose careers have been cut short by chronic injuries, will also be student assistants.
The only player on the 105-man roster not in attendance was offensive lineman Walter Kahaiali’i, who just got married and was late returning from Hawaii.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Ross Apo practiced in a limited role due to offseason surgeries. Mendenhall said Van Noy won’t go full-tilt until he is cleared by doctors at an Aug. 14 appointment, but Apo is probably closer to getting back to full strength.
Offensive lineman Houston Reynolds left practice early with sore shins, and defensive tackle Russell Tialavea left early with a sprained ankle.
BYU camp: Day 1
R Wearing just helmets and shorts, the Cougars go for more than 21/2 hours in the wicked Provo sun as camp begins with 104 of the 105 players on the roster in attendance.
• Linebacker Kyle Van Noy goes at half-speed and will stay that way until cleared at a doctor’s appointment on Aug. 14.
• Center Houston Reynolds and nose tackle Russell Tialavea suffer minor injuries Thursday.