BYU football: Injuries thrust Kaneakua Friel into the spotlight
Provo • Back in August, during two-a-day practices under the blazing summer sun, BYU tight end Kaneakua Friel could not have imagined what is about to happen.
A sophomore from Hawaii, Friel was buried on the depth chart, not because he lacked ability but because he plays one of BYU's most fortified positions.
Friel appeared destined for a role on special teams his size and speed translates perfectly into kick coverage as he patiently waited for a greater opportunity.
Thinking back, Friel said, "What I wanted to do my game plan was to just do my best. I wanted to give my all and help the offense until I worked my way into a vital role."
Friel's time has arrived.
Because of a string of devastating injuries to tights ends Devin Mahina, Richard Wilson and Austin Holt, Friel is expected to start in Saturday's regular-season finale at Hawaii.
"I've never seen anything like [the injuries]," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It's been a remarkable thing."
Said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman: "It's such a unique deal. Fortunately, we have enough bodies. We'll mix and match and shuffle them around and make it work."
More than anything, Mendenhall and Doman feel bad for the players who have suffered such devastating injuries.
"Very sad," Mendenhall said.
"It's hard to see those young men get hurt with things that cause you to go down for a while," Doman added. "It's tough for a coach to watch that."
Enter Friel, a superb athlete with the size and strength to be an outstanding player.
That comes against Hawaii.
"I'm sad for the other guys, but glad for the opportunity I have to play and show what I can do," Friel said. "My goal is still the same, though. Help the team. Help beat Hawaii."
According to Friel, it will be "something special to go home, play in a stadium where I played high school games and play against some friends."
Friel never considered signing with Hawaii, however.
Once he received a scholarship offer from Mendenhall, Friel's father made the decision for him.
"I don't know how, but he knew this was the right place for me," Friel said. "Myself, I didn't quite know. But I didn't really have a choice. When Bronco offered, my dad said, 'He'll be there.' And I had to respect that."
Smiling, Friel added, "I'm glad he knew what he was doing."
Friel is one of four healthy tights ends who remain options in BYU's offense. The others are Marcus Mathews, Mark Muehlmann and senior squadman Matt Edwards.
Mathews is more of a wideout who is used mostly in passing situations.
Muehlmann opened the season as a defensive end and has been switched to offense. He could play both ways against Hawaii and in the Armed Forces Bowl.
For now, however, Friel is the starter.
"He's a good player a big, strong, physical kid," Doman said. "But he's still new at this position. So he's growing. He's not a mature, veteran, disciplined tight end yet. But athletically and physically, he has plenty of tools."
Kaneakua Friel file
Hometown • Kaneohe, Hawaii
Class • Sophomore
Position • Tight end
Height • 6-foot-5
Weight • 244 pounds
High School • Kamehameha (2007)
BYU tight ends injured this season
Player Class Date Injury Status
Devin Mahina Soph. Aug. 30 Neck Out for season
Richard Wilson Soph. Oct. 17 Knee Out for season
Austin Holt Soph. Nov. 19 Knee Out for season