Provo • A mildly disappointing setback when the depth chart comes out isn’t going to derail your lifelong dream of being a full-time defensive starter for the BYU football team when you’ve battled back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
That’s how Adam Pulsipher views his current situation after he was bypassed for the starting linebacker position vacated by Francis Bernard when the two-deep chart was released Monday. Pulsipher, a junior from Temecula, Calif., is listed as the backup to former safety Matt Hadley at WLB and a backup to Butch Pau’u at middle linebacker.
Pulsipher was getting the majority of the reps with the No. 1s in training camp before and after BYU announced Aug. 17 that Bernard was redshirting this season, so it is a bit of a surprise that he won’t be the starter when the Cougars take on Portland State in their opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I put in a lot of work in the offseason and am just trying to make the most of my opportunities, whether they are at Bo [weakside] or Mike [middle] linebacker or wherever the coaches need me,” Pulsipher said. “Most of fall camp I played Bo, but all last year I played Mike in the games, filling in for Butch. It’s [disappointing] to not be named [No. 1], but I feel like I can handle a lot and be a major contributor.”
The middle linebacker spot, where Bernard excelled, is more involved in pass coverage and requires discipline to contain bootlegs and reverses. The wide linebacker can play more freely and attack the ball more.
BYU LINEBACKER ADAM PULSIPHER
• Played in 12 games and started in two at linebacker in 2016, making 16 tackles
• Was the Southwestern League Defensive MVP at Temecula Valley High School in California
• Served two years as a missionary in Rancagua, Chile
• His brother, Addison Pulsipher, is a redshirt sophomore offensive lineman at BYU
• Married to former BYU women’s basketball star Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Pulsipher can play both.
“We need him [in order] to win is the bottom line,” Tuiaki said. “We feel comfortable that he knows the defense enough where he can play at those two spots, and he will definitely have some snaps and have a role on the defense. Attitude wise, he has been awesome. He is an ultimate team player.”
Pulsipher replaced Pau’u when the Cougars’ big hitter was injured against West Virginia last year, then made eight of his 16 season tackles against Toledo when he got the start. His major contributions in 2015 and 2016 were on special teams.
“I feel like I made some plays in the run game,” he said about 2016. “There are some plays I wish I could have had back. But you get better with every snap, every game. Coming into this year, I have a lot more confidence.”
Confidence that remains unfazed by the depth chart news.
“He is a guy who believes in himself, which is good,” Tuiaki said. “You want that, and he will definitely take some snaps off some other guys as well as have a chance to play.”
Pulsipher, a standout linebacker at Temecula Valley (Calif.) High, served a church mission to Chile before enrolling. He redshirted in 2014, appeared in six games on special teams as a freshman in 2015 then tore his Achilles in spring camp in 2016.
“Not at all what I expected,” he said. “As a freshman, you come in thinking you are going to start right away, make every play. It obviously doesn’t work that way. … Still, I didn’t expect it to be easy. I fought back from the Achilles [injury] to contribute on defense last year, and I’ll fight back again if I have to.”
Linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi said it isn’t a done deal that Hadley will get more reps than Pulsipher. It all comes down to who makes plays, Kaufusi said.
“It is time to throw them in the fire come Saturday, see what they can do,” Kaufusi said. “Games are a little different than practices. Who can handle the chaos and stay poised and just execute and be physical and make plays? That’s the bottom line. We need playmakers.”