Thanks to new redshirt rule, BYU can ease returned Mormon missionaries back into play without burning their eligibility

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake and his players celebrate after targeting was not called on Brigham Young Cougars running back Brayden El-Bakri (35) during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Provo • Kalani Sitake has seen it time and again in a football coaching career that has taken him from Eastern Arizona to Southern Utah, Utah, Oregon State and now BYU.

Mormon missionaries return from two years of service and just aren’t able to fully participate the first half of the season, then don’t want to the second half because playing even a down of football would burn their redshirt year.

Thanks to the new redshirt rule passed by the NCAA Division I Council last month, that’s no longer a concern. Players can now participate in any four games in a season without losing a season of eligibility.

In essence, football players can now play 4 1/3 seasons.

“I know some guys have gotten back [from missions] in the summer and played when they weren’t quite ready,” BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said. “The new rule will help a lot.”

Because BYU — which is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — annually has more returned missionaries than any other school in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), Sitake sees the rule change as a “huge benefit” to his program. Last year, BYU had 73 returned missionaries on its roster, roughly 65 percent of the team.

“We always have a lot of missionaries returning, and I can think of a lot of guys who got home in August or the end of July, and took some time to get in better shape,” Sitake said a few days after the rule change. “We probably would have been able to use them the last four games last year.

“So we can do that this year,” he continued. “I think it helps them out. I think that it is good for young kid during his redshirt year to get an opportunity to be on the field and experience four games. I think it will be great for the development of these young men.”

New BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick fielded a lot of difficult questions during media day on June 22, most regarding who will be the Cougars’ starting quarterback when they open the season on Sept. 1 at Arizona. He did his best to keep a poker face and not give any indication which QB among senior Tanner Mangum, junior Beau Hoge, sophomore Joe Critchlow or freshman Zach Wilson had the upper hand.

BYU returned missionaries to keep an eye  on

• Devin Kaufusi, defensive lineman, 6-7, 250, Timpview H.S. — Brother of Bronson and Corbin Kaufusi

• Hirkley Latu, linebacker, 6-3, 230, Kahuku (Hawaii) H.S. — BYU’s Kahuku pipeline is flowing again

• Skyler Southam, kicker, 6-0, 185, Wasatch H.S. — Will challenge Rhett Almond for FG kicking chores

• Jaren Hall, quarterback, 6-1, 195, Maple Mountain H.S. — Son of former BYU standout Kalin Hall

• Drew Jensen, defensive back, 6-2, 195, Brighton H.S. — Cousin of BYU basketball star Nick Emery

• Hank Tuipulotu, tight end, 6-3, 225, Nation Ford (S.C.) H.S. — Father, Peter, played fullback for BYU

But when the former BYU, Snow College, SUU and Utah assistant was asked about the new redshirt rule, he smiled broadly.

“It is a good rule, and I am excited about it,” Roderick said.” I think it allows you to keep your players, not just quarterbacks, but all your players more fully engaged in the season. You can keep them involved in the game plan, they can stay ready to play.”

Sitake, Roderick and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said it is a rule change they have been begging for since they began their coaching careers.

“My first year here [at BYU], I was a junior college transfer, and I redshirted, but they waited until the seventh or eighth game to tell me I was redshirting,” Roderick said. “So I had to get ready every game and I would just stand there and I never went in. I was the backup punt returner. That was really hard to stay engaged.”

Roderick agreed that the new rule will influence how he uses his quarterbacks in 2018 because all four theoretically still have their redshirts years available, even Mangum.

“If you hit midseason and you need a quarterback to go in and help you win a game, you can put one in,” Roderick said. “It used to be, ‘Man, we have to make a tough decision about whether to burn this guy’s redshirt for one game.’ Now, you can use a player and he can still redshirt. That’s a huge thing for everyone. We will see. I think it is going to be a positive overall.”

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