Provo • When former BYU defensive back and graduate assistant Preston Hadley returned to the school as a full-time assistant coach after stints at Santa Ana College and Weber State, he walked into the safeties room last spring and liked what he saw.
“I think we have a few guys in the room who will end up in NFL camps,” he said.
That’s a bold statement, considering one of the starters at safety last season, senior Zayne Anderson, has been moved to linebacker. The other starting safety, Micah Hannemann, exhausted his eligibility and signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns.
A couple of players who started a lot at cornerback the past two seasons, juniors Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, have been moved to safety, although Warner has still been getting reps at cornerback in preseason training camp and could be shuttled back and forth depending upon how the young cornerbacks develop.
As of now, Hadley said he considers Ghanwoloku the probable starter at strong safety and Warner and junior Austin Lee the co-starters at free safety. Senior Sawyer Powell, junior Isaiah Armstrong, senior Gavin Fowler and former running back Austin Kafentzis should also see time this season at safety, Hadley said.
“The biggest challenge is we have a bunch of really good players at the safety spot, so just finding a way to get them all on the field is difficult,” Hadley said. “Just managing the reps is the biggest challenge right now.”
Senior Tanner Jacobson and returned missionary Drew Jensen were considered safeties when camp began, but Jacobson is playing running back and Jensen is playing linebacker in preseason practices.
“I feel confident we will be able to go and compete against anybody,” Hadley said. “We will have to play well and be disciplined. I do think that one of the luxuries of being at BYU is we get really smart players. And I believe that the safety position is one of the smartest position groups on our team, and one of the smartest position groups in the country. Again, I think it all contributes to what I think will be our success.”
Ghanwoloku said the transition has gone well for him.
“I am still getting the hang of it,” he said. “I am just learning to get the plays called in faster. It is a lot different than corner, obviously. Everything is a lot faster, I feel like. But overall it is going good.”
Warner, who suffered a Lisfranc foot injury in the eighth game last year, against East Carolina, said he is almost back to 100 percent.
“My foot gets sore here and there, but usually it doesn’t take long to recover and be close to 100 percent again,” he said. “Every other practice I am limited. But the days I am full go, I am full go and there is no letting up.”
Warner said he played safety in high school so the transition “has been pretty seamless.”