Wednesday, the BYU Cougars will pack their bags and head to the airport for the 2,000-mile flight to Hartford, Conn.
Wait a minute. Don’t the Cougars meet the UConn Huskies on Friday night at 5 p.m. MDT on ESPN?
Yes, but in a change from what BYU did last year when it traveled cross-country to take on the Virginia Cavaliers the day before the 19-16 loss in Charlottesville, coach Bronco Mendenhall is taking the team a day early.
Yes, the coach learned a thing or two from that unsuccessful trip.
"There hasn’t been many distractions through fall camp because school is not in session. Once school starts, that is quite a bit different. So the only advantage of going early is just, it is a long ways. Again, having traveled a year ago, I would have done that differently, and could have, probably would have gone a day earlier."
Mendenhall said going two days before kickoff doesn’t guarantee a better performance, but it can’t hurt — especially since classes haven’t started yet.
"I am never positive it is the right [decision]," he said. "I feel good about where we are and gosh, you just gotta play. And once we play, I will know more. You will all know more once we play. So, I am not sure what else I can tell you up to this point."
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who was a member of BYU’s 1984 national championship team, said legendary coach LaVell Edwards would take his team to road openers a few days before kickoff so they could get acclimated to the different climate and elevation and so they could see different parts of the country.
"This is what I experienced as a player: Coach Edwards would take us a day before, and I remember road trips to Pittsburgh and seeing things in that part of the country that we had never seen," Anae said. "So that same type of deal is happening today. Some of our players have never seen that side of the country. To go there and enjoy the trip from a humanistic standpoint is a real plus for our student-athletes. Play the game, spend a day in that part of the country. It is a privilege, and a nice treat for the program to do that for the players."
Running backs coach Mark Atuaia, a former BYU player, said it doesn’t matter to him either way.
"I couldn’t care less," Atuaia said. "My group is that way too. Whatever we got to do, we are going to do. We are just excited."
Generally, BYU’s players are happy about leaving early. They will practice in Hartford on Wednesday and have the traditional walk-through on Thursday, so getting out of an extra day of practice isn’t the reason why.
Here’s what several said about leaving a day early:
Taysom Hill: "I think the biggest thing is it will help us get acclimated. It will give us some down time instead of traveling and trying to fit so much in in one day with the fireside and stuff. We will have some down time the night before, football stuff in the morning, then more down time and then the fireside and get ready to play. I think it will alleviate some of the stress and craziness associated with traveling so far."
Alani Fua: "I mean, I like it personally, because it is kind of exhausting when you travel for the whole day, then wake up in the morning and you have to play a game. So having that extra day to just relax and get acclimated to the area is helpful."
Mitch Mathews: "Yeah, we are excited about that. It seems pretty cool. It is a time to go to a part of the country we have never been to. I’ve never been there, to Connecticut. Almost all the team has never been there.
It is a time to get used to the weather — it is more humid over there. It is a time to get ready. So that first day, you can kinda check things out. Then all of Thursday you have time to check things out, and then Friday ready to play.
A lot of times what happens is you go to a place the day before, and it is almost like a vacation. You feel like you are in a new part of the country, and you are going to see sights, you are going to new places, and you forget you have a football game to play.
We, as players, are excited to go over there and get that out of the way, so on Friday we can focus on the game."
Bronson Kaufusi: "I don’t really know too much [of what to see in Connecticut]. I am just excited to go play the game and that’s what I am focused on. I think playing underneath Bronco, it is great to be there. We have the firesides and stuff, but when it is time for business, it is time to get focused and ready to go."
Adam Hine: "Yeah, I like it. It gives us time to acclimate a little bit to what it is going to be like there. I think we will be prepared for it. We won’t miss a practice. We will practice there and we will have our walk-throughs and we will be ready."
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