Provo • It was supposed to be a day to find out if one of the three players vying to be the third-string quarterback could emerge, but in many ways, the freshmen running backs and receivers stole the show.
The BYU Cougars’ first big scrimmage of preseason camp, held Thursday at steamy LaVell Edwards Stadium was dominated by newcomers so much that senior quarterback Riley Nelson even suggested that one of them, 17-year-old running back Jamaal Williams of Fontana, Calif., became an instant fan favorite.
“He’s very explosive and he’s got lots of speed, and if he can keep playing like he was today, I think he may be able to see the field this year,” Nelson said of the back that could make Cougar fans forget the painful departure of junior Josh Quezada a few weeks ago. “I am really excited for him.”
Williams had five carries for 34 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 11 yards, but it was his moves and sudden bursts of speed on some of those carries that had the sun-soaked crowd buzzing.
Wednesday, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said that after Williams committed to BYU, several big-time schools pursued him. Now it is easy to see why, although it must be said that he mostly faced BYU’s second- and third-team defense; the only defensive starter that played much was strongside linebacker Spencer Hadley.
“You saw what I saw — just his ability,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He is fun to watch, and he catches the ball well, but he also can break a tackle and run around you.”
Fellow freshman RB Adam Hine — who’s quite a bit older, having redshirted last year after a two-year church mission — also showed well, galloping for 29 yards on five carries and catching an 11-yard pass. Probable leading rusher Mike Alisa got just one carry, for 6 yards, while David Foote picked up 34 yards on six attempts and Iona Pritchard packed it three times for 16 yards.
With such a deep group, will the flashy Williams see the field?
“I don’t know,” Mendenhall said. “Hopefully. Our experience would be that with really young, talented freshmen, the sooner we can play them, keep them integrated, traveling with us, et cetera, the more they kind of mature, the more they learn how we do things. That will be the plan, right now. How, we are not sure yet.”
Although he didn’t find the end zone, the receiver of the day was probably Cody Raymond, the walk-on returned missionary from Jordan High. He had three catches for 31 yards, including a diving grab early. Freshman Terenn Houk, who looks and runs a lot like starting receiver Ross Apo, and even wears Apo’s old No. 11, caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 37-yard TD strike from Taysom Hill.
Speaking of Hill and the other two guys working hard to be third-stringer and get a leg up on next year’s race to be the starter, junior Jason Munns and freshman Ammon Olsen, they all had their moments.
Munns was the first QB in after Nelson and backup James Lark (8 for 12, 66 yards) and directed a nice drive that produced Riley Stephenson’s 33-yard field goal.
So who caught Mendenhall’s eye?
“I wasn’t paying much attention, other than I don’t think there was much difference [between the three],” he said. “I was hoping to allow them to play long enough [to separate themselves]. … But it was nice to get them all some work.”
Mendenhall said the next scrimmage will likely be Tuesday, depending on how the rest of the week goes.
BYU’s first scrimmage
• With all but one probable defensive starter sitting out — only LB Spencer Hadley saw action — the offense did rather well in a 76-play scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, scoring 24 points in 10 series.
• Several freshmen shined, including running back Jamaal Williams, receivers Terenn Houk and Dylan Collie, and defensive tackle Tui Crichton.
• Starting quarterback Riley Nelson directed a touchdown drive on the opening possession and was 7-for-10 for 76 yards and a 14-yard TD pass to JD Falslev.