Provo • Matt Hadley hasn’t played as many positions at BYU to match the number of years he’s been in the football program, but he is getting close.
The senior from Connell, Wash., was projected a couple weeks ago to replace Kai Nacua as BYU’s starting free safety, but Francis Bernard’s starting weakside linebacker spot opened up last week with news of his non-availability, and Hadley has been moved to that spot.
“I am just honestly grateful that the coaches trust me with it and have been able to see my ability and what I can do and how I can contribute at the different positions they have tried me at,” Hadley said after practice Tuesday as the Cougars continued preparations for Saturday’s opener against Portland State. “Yeah, it is tough and it is an adjustment, but you know, we are all football players. We should be able to figure it out.”
Hadley has played cornerback and safety for the Cougars since enrolling in 2012 and was given a tryout at running back in the spring before a foot injury derailed that experiment. He was a record-setting running back and also played safety and linebacker in high school.
Oh, and he also returns kickoffs, a spot he hopes to hang on to despite having to add a few pounds to play linebacker. Hadley is listed at 205 pounds but says he is up to 213 and wants to get to between 215 and 220 to handle the rigors of playing linebacker.
PORTLAND STATE AT BYU
When • 1 p.m. Saturday
Where • LaVell Edwards Stadium
TV • ESPN
“He is just a good ballplayer,” defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “I thought he did good enough at running back to stay there. He was our starting safety, but with things happening, we decided to move him to backer, and it has been good. He fits in anywhere on the field. He is just a smart, savvy kid.”
Zayne Anderson, a speedy junior from Stansbury Park, has moved into the starting spot at free safety.
Coach Kalani Sitake said last week that the move to linebacker will allow Hadley to eat more freely without worrying about packing on pounds and losing some quickness required of a safety.
Family members, such as former BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley, were quick to needle via text messages one of Alan and Kathryn Hadley’s seven children about those comments.
“I don’t know why [Sitake] said that,” Matt Hadley joked. “But you can’t just eat whatever. I am eating more consistently now, and larger portions, which I am happy about.”
Tuiaki backs off Bernard comments
Before he met with reporters after practice Tuesday, Tuiaki said he “messed up” Monday when he said on his weekly radio show that Bernard is leaving the program.
BYU said Thursday that Bernard will redshirt in 2017 but remain in the program and participate in team activities, practices and meetings. However, his older brother, James Bernard Jr., told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that Francis wants to transfer to Utah.
Shortly after Sitake said in his weekly news briefing that The Tribune report was “premature,” Tuiaki told radio host Greg Wrubell that Bernard is “going to leave, but I don’t know where he is going to go.”
Bernard was scheduled to meet with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe on Tuesday.
Tuiaki said freshman Kody Wilstead is the scout team quarterback, but transfer Austin Kafentzis also is seeing some time there to give the defense a look at a quicker, more mobile QB. … Tuiaki said freshmen defensive linemen Keanu Saleapaga and Alden Tofa likely will redshirt this season. He said 410-pound freshman defensive tackle Motekiai Langi probably is two years away from seeing steady action on the line but will be used on the field goal and field goal block units this season.