Provo • Raise your hand if you were the BYU fan who predicted that the Cougars’ two leading receivers in their season-opening 30-6 win over Washington State would be tight end Kaneakua Friel and walk-on Skyler Ridley.
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Player Rec Yds TDs Long
Kaneakua Friel 6 101 2 25
Skyler Ridley 6 54 1 11
But that’s what happened at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday. Friel hauled in six passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Ridley caught six balls for 54 yards and a 7-yard touchdown, which happened to be his first catch in a college game.
As coach Bronco Mendenhall said on his postgame radio show, you can’t make up stories like Ridley’s.
"It’s like a movie script," he said.
Ridley’s bio in the BYU 2012 Season Almanac reads like this:
2007: Redshirt member of the scout team
2010: Freshman member of the scout team
2011: Sophomore member of the scout team
If star receiver Cody Hoffman (three catches, 46 yards) doesn’t go down with a left quadriceps contusion late in the first quarter, Ridley probably doesn’t even play, although he was listed as Hoffman’s backup on the depth chart.
The junior from Murrieta, Calif., who served an LDS Church mission in Manchester, England, almost gave up football after three years on the scout team. But he was persuaded before spring camp to stick with it. Yet there he was after Thursday night’s game, making radio appearances and describing how he managed to hang onto the ball despite taking a couple bone-jarring hits.
"He’s a tough sucker," quarterback Riley Nelson said about the communications major and Eagle Scout.
As for Friel, his journey to opening-day stardom was not as surprising as Ridley’s but noteworthy nonetheless.
Friel was buried on coach Lance Reynolds’ tight end depth chart behind Devin Mahina, Austin Holt and Richard Wilson at the start of last year, but Friel found himself on the field against Oregon State last October after those three all suffered season-ending injuries.
Friel’s first college catch went for a touchdown, an 8-yarder against the Beavers, just like Ridley. He again was down the depth chart for most of fall camp, only to be elevated when Marcus Mathews was moved to receiver. Mahina broke his hand during the first week of camp, and coaches have said Friel passed Holt and Wilson because those two aren’t totally recovered from knee surgeries.
"Kane did what I knew he could do, and that was perform really well," Nelson said.
The reserved and humble Friel talked several times during preseason camp and again from the podium Thursday night about his uneasiness in the spotlight and his reticence to do interviews. He’s much more aggressive and self-confident on the field.
"I noticed that I was going to be one of the main guys toward the end of fall camp because coach Reynolds had told me that," he said.
"All the tight ends have made great leaps and strides throughout fall camp. We have all improved our games since last year, and we are ready."
Oddly, Friel was flagged for delay of game after a catch for rolling the football toward the hash marks Thursday. That was mild stuff, really, in a game that featured 18 penalties.
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