BYU football: Sophomore LB Alani Fua one of camp's biggest surprises
Provo • Heading into preseason camp, steady junior Spencer Hadley was BYU's projected starter at strongside linebacker, having made the transition from inside linebacker during spring camp.
But Hadley now has some company in the battle to be the starter, coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday after the Cougars' second practice of the day. Gangly sophomore Alani Fua, despite weighing just 220 pounds, has pulled even with Hadley.
"It has been rotating quite a bit each day," Mendenhall said. "I think that's going to be a seasonal thing. Both those guys will play a bunch. It is neck and neck, and they are both really good. So I think we are OK there."
Fua, who is listed at 6-foot-4, ran with the ones Monday afternoon and has made so many strides that outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said he's pushing to be the starter when the Cougars open against Washington State on Aug. 30.
"Alani has honestly been the surprise of camp, just at my position, just by how much he has picked up both sides," Poppinga said. "He's playing Sam, and he's also playing [weakside linebacker], which is hard to do."
Fua arrived in Provo two years ago out of California's famed Oaks Christian High where the sons of celebrities Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky and Will Smith were his teammates weighing just 190 pounds and looking more like a receiver than a linebacker.
He said he's added 30 pounds with the help of BYU's nutritionist, much like tight end Marcus Mathews, and hopes to get to 245 or 250 when he is a senior. Last year, he was used sparingly as a pass rusher on third down.
"It feels good to be in the mix, good to be considered a possibility to contribute more," he said.
Poppinga said Fua is a better pass rusher than Hadley, but Hadley is more stout against the run and a bit better in pass coverage.
"Alani came into camp with more awareness this year that he can see the field if he puts on some weight," Poppinga said.
Mendenhall didn't want to get into specifics on how the depth chart is shaping up, but he did allow that Mitch Mathews, a freshman receiver from Beaverton, Ore., has emerged as the possible fourth receiver, behind Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and J.D. Falslev.
"That would be where it kind of leans right now," Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said the Cougars will scrimmage on Thursday at the stadium, using a similar format to last week's scrimmage. ... Linebacker Kyle Van Noy will see a doctor Tuesday to get clearance to return to full contact after offseason shoulder surgery, but is "basically doing everything that he would be doing anyway," Mendenhall said. ... Kicker Justin Sorensen (offseason back surgery) is going through protocol to return to practice and is still expected to be the Cougars' opening-day kicker.
BYU camp cuts
What we learned • Play has been chippy in team (11-on-11) sessions at camp, prompting coach Bronco Mendenhall to say the Cougars need to improve their maturity and composure in competitive situations.
Who was hot • Receiver Ross Apo made a spectacular one-handed catch for a touchdown in his first extended action of preseason camp.
Who was sidelined • Several receivers were held out with various bumps and bruises in the afternoon practice, including Mitch Mathews, Jordan Smith and Dallin Cutler.