Provo • After seven practices, the simulation of a pre-game walkthrough and a live scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium that was not accessible to the media, the competition to replace Jamaal Williams as BYU’s starting tailback has started to sort itself out.
Running backs coach Reno Mahe said Friday — before the scrimmage — that junior Squally Canada would get the nod if the season started today. Canada has the most experience, having rushed 74 times for 315 yards while backing up Williams in 2016.
It might be a surprise to some, however, that Mahe said redshirt sophomore Riley Burt would be the next back in. Burt rushed for 86 yards as a freshman in 2015 but decided to redshirt in 2016.
“As far as starting, we’ve got Squally and Riley right there,” Mahe said. “So those guys are 1-2 right there on the two-deep.’
The fullback situation is even more clear. Redshirt junior Brayden El Bakri, a Brighton High product, is the starter, backed up by Provo’s Creed Richardson then Kyle Griffits, a sophomore from Windermere, Fla.
Because he’s pushing 255 pounds, Ula Tolutau, the freshman who signed with Wisconsin before a church mission to Bakersfield, Calif., seemingly would be a candidate to play fullback. But Mahe and Tolutau said the former East High star is a tailback and will remain a tailback.
“As far as here, in our system, with his speed and everything we’ve seen, he is a tailback,” Mahe said. “He is just a tailback with a lot of mass.”
BYU’s TOP TAILBACKS
Player • Year •Height/Weight • Noteworthy
Squally Canada • Junior • 5-11/205 • Third in rushing yards with 315 on 74 carries, two TDs in 2016
Riley Burt • Sophomore • 6-1/205 • Rushed for 86 yards as a freshman, then redshirted in 2016
KJ Hall • Sophomore • 5-9/175 • Ran for 101 yards vs. UMass in first career start in 2016
Ula Tolutau • Freshman • 6-1/255 • Rushed for 2,465 yards and 31 TDs his senior year at East High
Trey Dye • Junior • 5-9/184 • Redshirted in 2016 after playing sparingly in 2014, 2015
Kavika Fonua • Junior • 6-0/215 • Totaled 24 tackles in 2016 as a linebacker, but moved to RB in spring
Noted Tolutau: “Yeah, I am a big guy, but I don’t have any desire to play fullback. I feel like I still have the speed to play tailback. I still have good vision. I still have some rugby cuts in me, so hopefully that will play out this year.”
When last December came and went without BYU signing a junior college running back to replace Williams, who is pushing to be the Green Bay Packers’ starting tailback this fall, it was a sign that coaches were happy with the talent on hand. Then they signed Tolutau, one of the best prep running backs ever in Utah.
“No question, it is a talented group,” Mahe said. “As long as they are good mentally, I think physically they will be able to handle it.”
Mahe said he values consistency, explosiveness and pass-catching and pass-protection ability. Canada and Burt have shown him the most in that regard. Junior Trey Dye is back after redshirting in 2016, sophomore KJ Hall showed flashes of brilliance against subpar competition late last season, and junior Kavika Fonua made the transition from linebacker to running back in the spring.
“Some of the younger guys like Ula and Kavika are new to the offense and still kind of learning,” Mahe said. “And I know what I am going to get out of KJ and Trey.”
That he is at the top of the depth chart did not come as news to Canada, who transferred to BYU from Washington State.
“In my mind, I have always been the starter,” he said. “I know they want to give other guys a clear-cut shot at it, which is cool. I love those guys, man. We push each other to the limit. Just having them around has boosted me because it has been a competition for awhile and still will be.”
Also asked Friday whether any running backs have emerged, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer mentioned Canada and Burt have the best feel for the offense.
“With Squally, you are starting to see that natural instinct where he has got some experience. That experience has helped him stay at the top,” Detmer said. “Riley Burt is starting to come on and having a better feel for putting his foot in the ground and not trying to bounce things so much.”
Detmer said all six tailbacks probably will play.
“Overall, they all bring something different to the table,” he said. “We will try to utilize that group and sub when we need to get the right combination in there to help with their skill set. It will still be by committee. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all of them get a touch at some point in a game and then as the season goes and that consistency starts to kick in, maybe one or two of them will get a little more than the others, but right now everyone is in the mix and everyone can play for us.”