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BYU football: Practice in St. George draws a huge crowd, and a huge recruit

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 10:11 pm


BYU football » The FanFest in St. George proves to be a hit.

St. George • More than 5,000 BYU fans attended the Cougars' spring football practice and greet-and-meet at Dixie High School here Friday afternoon.

But all coach Kalani Sitake had to do, if he wanted to, was nod toward one particular onlooker when asked why he took his show on the road some 260 miles from Provo. There stood massive prep football recruit Penei Sewell, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound prospect from nearby Desert Hills High, yukking it up with BYU's many Polynesian players and coaches.

Sewell, a rising senior, picked up an offer from Alabama last week, and already has invitations from USC, Washington and, of course, Utah and BYU.




Temperatures hit 85 degrees for the practice that started around 3:30 p.m. and went for about an hour. After, the Cougars stayed for hours to sign autographs and mingle with fans, who were most interested in meeting Sitake, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, quarterback Tanner Mangum, linebacker Fred Warner and the hometown hero, former Pine View quarterback Cole Wilstead, judging by the throngs swarming around each man at Walt Brooks Field.

"I think it is a blessing, getting to see all these people who know us and root for us, and maybe even getting some U. fans to switch to the Y," said the 6-foot-6 Wilstead, who recently returned from a church mission.

Although he called the conditions "really warm, almost hot," Sitake marveled at the turnout and said it surpassed the attendance of other FanFests BYU has had around the country. Letting the fans see some actual football — Mangum and receivers Rickey Shumway, Akile Davis and Micah Simon stole the show and defenders Sawyer Powell and Butch Pau'u made big plays — was the primary reason.

And BYU has quite a few wealthy boosters who reside in this retirement community.

Catching the attention of a few recruits in this rising prep football hotbed and from Las Vegas didn't hurt, either.

"Sure, that helps out too," Sitake said of Sewell's presence. "But more than anything, it is about trying to reach out to the fans. You have to go some place where you are wanted, and they can take care of you. And we were lucky that we were able to be on this field and have our fans watch us practice."

The Cougars got up early Friday morning for the four-hour bus ride to Utah's Dixie, and defensive back Michael Shelton and Warner said it took awhile to adjust to the heat and stretch their legs.

"It was a little hot today, I am not going to lie," Warner said. "But it was great, man. The fan turnout was awesome. I didn't think we were going to have this many fans. Everybody interacted during practice, with coach [Jack] Damuni out here [broadcasting]. The change of scenery was obviously fun."

After practice and before the on-field mingling, the Cougars honored 9-year-old Jackson Keith, who is stricken with Cystic fibrosis, as their "True Blue Hero" of the week.

"I think fans want to see what we have going on," Sitake said. "And I think it is important for us to be accessible to them."

Having grown up in nearby Hurricane, BYU kicker Corey Edwards wasn't surprised at the turnout. Edwards' grandfather, Wayne, is the late LaVell Edwards' brother.

"There are a ton of BYU fans down here," BYU's kickoff specialist said. "It was fun to give them the opportunity to watch us play and have fun."

Defensive lineman Trajan Pili, who grew up in Las Vegas, also saw some familiar faces in the crowd.

"Las Vegas doesn't have a lot of teams to cheer for out there, especially if you are a member of the [LDS] church," Pili said. "BYU is the closest thing. A lot of fans made the trip up here. … Growing up down there, my family members were big BYU fans."

After the practice and FanFest, the Cougars headed over to Quail Creek State Park near Hurricane for a scheduled two-night campout close to Quail Reservoir.

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AT A GLANCE

FanFest highlights

» BYU honored St. George resident Jackson Keith, 9, who is stricken with cystic fibrosis, as its “True Blue Hero.”

» More than 5,000 fans attended at Dixie High School and spilling into the South end zone.

» Among the notables in attendance was Desert Hills lineman Penei Sewell (a five-star recruit).


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