On the latest roster distributed by BYU, six players are listed as tight ends: Kaneakua Friel, Devin Mahina, Stehly Reden, Bryan Sampson, Brett Thompson and Richard Wilson.
No players are listed as H-backs, but don't be surprised this season to hear several of the aforementioned players called that. Iona Pritchard, who was a fullback last year, also fits that description.
You can read more about this new addition to Robert Anae's offense here. To my knowledge, it is the first time a BYU offense will include a position it calls an H-back, but the offense will still resemble what Anae had when he was at BYU before.
NFL tight end Dennis Pitta was never called an H-back at BYU, but he lined up in that spot a lot of times, especially when the other outstanding TE of that era, Andrew George, was on the field with him. Old-timers tell me that Matt Bellini did a lot of the same things from 1987-90 that BYU H-backs will do this season, but was generally just listed as a running back.
There's also a story online today about the Cougars' depth at the running back position, and a column on defensive back Mike Hague's career of perseverance and dedication, despite injuries and fluctuating weight.
Here's Richard Wilson's description of the H-back spot:
"I am playing H-back in coach Anae's offense, so I line up behind the tackle a lot, doing a little blocking.
I am also playing Y, the other H-back position, just so I can learn everything. I am trying to play where ever I can. The H-back is tight end slash fullback. It kind of fits me well because I can run out of the backfield, I can block. My body type fits that position. It is like what Aaron Hernandez played for the Patriots. I am doing tight end as well. I am doing everything."
Wilson shared an interesting story about how he stayed with the team when it appeared for awhile his career might be over:
"During spring, I was still hurt. I didn't have a good spring. I only practiced for half the time in the spring, and they didn't know if my knee was going to be able to hold up.
Coach Anae talked in the spring during the exit interview. He wanted my knee to get to 90 percent.
There's a little test our trainers have for us. We tested it in March, and my knee was about 78 percent. They told me if I couldn't get it to 90, they couldn't clear me for fall camp.
So I worked really hard this offseason with our new rehab specialist, and in 11 weeks I got it from 78 percent to 114 percent.
So it is actually stronger.
I think that has made a huge difference for me. I feel faster, I feel stronger, and I don't have to worry about my knee. It has helped me be more confident out there and make some plays when the ball comes to me."
Does the instigation of the H-back spot mean fewer reps, fewer opportunities, for the main tight ends from last year -- Kaneakua Friel and Devin Mahina?
Probably, which is why Friel said he has "mixed feelings" over change. He will likely play both tight end and H-back, though, he said.
"I don't know [if fewer passes will be thrown in his direction]," Friel said. "But what I do know is I will line up more in the backfield. I will know more as time goes on. But for right now, a bit more in the backfield, a bit more blocking, helping out the O-line. ... Yeah, that's the H-back."
Friel actually played fullback his freshman season (2008), before a church mission, as the backup to Fui Vakapuna. He played in eight games, but didn't have any receptions or carries.
He said he's not sure why he was selected to be more of an H-back this year.
"I don't know exactly why," he said. "I feel like I can take it downfield just like everyone else. But that is what coach Anae, coach George, have asked me to do. They asked me to prepare for that during the summer. I have been learning that during the summer and just trying to follow through the best I can."
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