Provo • Matt Hadley will finish his long BYU football career as a defensive back and a kick returner.
The senior from Connell, Wash., who followed his linebacker brother Spencer’s footsteps to BYU way back in 2012, got a tryout at running back in the spring as the Cougars looked for a replacement for Jamaal Williams. But Hadley had a balky foot injury that precluded him from showing the form he displayed in high school when he rushed for a state-record 47 touchdowns as a junior and a state-record 746 points in his career.
“That foot injury was a pretty big hiccup for me, but it is good now,” he said. “I’m 100 percent now. Yeah, we’re good. … I am back over with the safeties. I carried the ball for a long time before college, so the urge to be able to run with it is always there.”
BYU camp developments
• Former offensive lineman JJ Nwigwe has been moved to tight end and is wearing jersey No. 96 in camp
• One of the most intense position battles is at right tackle between junior Austin Hoyt and redshirt freshman Kieffer Longson
• Junior Rhett Almond will handle the place-kicking chores, while junior Andrew Mikkelsen and senior Corey Edwards will handle kickoffs, head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday
Now, he will have to get his hands on the football through interceptions and kickoffs.
Hadley will continue his battle with juniors Zayne Anderson and Austin Lee to be the Cougars’ starting free safety and replace Kai Nacua. Micah Hannemann is the presumptive starter at strong safety, with Texas Tech transfer Tanner Jacobson and Washington State transfer Kamel Greene pushing the senior for playing time at that position.
“We talk about our personnel every day,” said defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “That is probably the deepest group that we feel comfortable about playing. And so, when we have two guys come out, two guys go in, and you still feel comfortable. We can go three, four deep with those guys and still feel comfortable.”
Highly recruited freshman Chaz Ah You, redshirt sophomore Sam Baldwin and seniors Sawyer Powell and Cody Stewart could also see the field.
“I have been saying it since spring: we have a lot of athletic guys in the safeties group,” Hadley said. “Everybody in the room can get the job done. It’s fun.”
Coach Kalani Sitake said the safety position is similar to the running back spot in that the competition is wide open to replace Nacua.
“There are a lot of guys who are being given opportunities,” Sitake said. “There is plenty of football to be played. So right now we will just keep rotating them and give them [reps]. As you can see, they are being given different opportunities to work with different guys.
“Obviously, they will be more comfortable working with a guy like Micah because he is a starter and has more experience. We will try to rotate them around and get them used to working with others.”
Just for kicks
Hadley returned seven kicks for a 27.9 average last year. He said he would love to be in the mix again this year for those duties. However, coaches haven’t released a special teams depth chart yet.
Receivers Aleva Hifo and Jonah Trinnaman, running backs Trey Dye and Kavika Fonua and defensive backs Michael Shelton and Micah Hannemann are also possibilities.
Special teams coach Ed Lamb is also looking for a punt returner to replace Garrett Juergens, who handled all but five punt returns last year and had an 8.6 average with a long of 27 yards.
Big Mo making waves
Motekiai Langi, the 6-foot-7, 410-pound defensive lineman who recently returned from a mission to Arizona is starting to see a few reps in camp. Monday, the prospect who had never played organized football in Tonga before being discovered by BYU defensive coach Steve Kaufusi in 2015 batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage, and was mobbed by his teammates.
“He is a load,” Sitake said. “He will be a force for us somewhere. We will see. Coach Tuiaki has done a great job with him. He’s learning the game.”
Sitake said Langi is so raw that he “just learned what the sideline was a couple days ago.”
BYU’s opponent on Sept. 2, LSU, announced Wednesday that two-year starting offensive guard Maea Teuhema has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.