Provo • Stacy Canada could not believe what her only biological son, Bryant Patrick “Squally” Canada, was telling her when he decided to transfer from Washington State in December of 2014.
“Are you sure?” she exclaimed. “You want to go to BYU? To the Mormon school in Utah? Are you serious?”
He was. And he also issued a promise: “I’m going to be the first person in our family to get a college degree,” he said on the phone that day.
Mom knew right then and there that the running back who is entering his final season at BYU in 2018 would follow through, and thrive in a unique environment some 800 miles away from the family’s home in Milpitas, Calif. That was true even if it meant he would have to cut off his cherished dreadlocks to adhere to BYU’s honor code.
“Squally is an interesting kid all the way around,” she said. “He is very determined. When he puts his mind into doing something, he does it. When he was little, he drew a picture and said, ‘one day I am going to play college football and then go to the NFL.’ I told him it would be rough, but anything is possible. I just tell him to keep pushing. And he keeps pushing.”
Canada said at BYU Photo Day that he is just three credits away from graduating with a degree in family studies, and may pursue a graduate degree if his lifelong dream of playing professional football doesn’t pan out. He might also pursue a future in police work or music, having already written and released some rap songs — a talent he’s had since he was young and would write love poems for a friend to give to his girlfriend.
“Coming here was a challenge,” admitted the African-American senior who is not a member of the faith that owns and operates BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I have friends and teammates who have made it a lot easier. But my whole goal has been to graduate, and I’m going to do that, the first in my entire extended family. That can never be taken away from me.”
A football friend from the Bay Area, Khari Vanderbilt, told Canada and WSU teammate Kamel Greene about BYU when they were both looking to transfer, because the Cougars were recruiting Vanderbilt at the time. Vanderbilt eventually signed with Cal, ironically, but Canada and Greene picked BYU. Greene mostly played special teams and graduated from BYU last spring.
Is Squally your real name?
Canada says if he had a nickel for every time he’s been asked that growing up, he would be rich. It’s not.
Stacy Canada said when her son was a baby, he would stare at a squaw tree outside their home in Vallejo, Calif., for “hours on end” and watch it blow in the wind. He was fascinated by it. “So his daddy gave him the nickname Boo Squally,” she said. “And then once he got to middle school, the Boo fell off. So it was just Squally.”
Canada said a lot of people in Utah assume he had a stormy upbringing, and “comes from the ‘hood." But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“I don’t come from a rough area,” he said. “I come from a nice area back home. I grew up in a two-parent household. My parents [Stacy and Byron] were able to get out of the hood and got jobs and kept jobs and all that.”
Still, Squally affiliated with a lot of troubled youngsters, because his parents took many of them into their home.
Stacy Canada said she often had between 12 and 15 children in her home at any one time when Squally was growing up, including his older sisters, Virginia and Brenda. All told, she raised 16 children, including two teenagers who still live with her and Byron.
They were mostly the sons and daughters of her three sisters, who struggled to raise them on their own for a variety of reasons. Stacy and Byron also took in non-relatives, including a boy named Adam whose mother died when he was 7. They first met him at a Pop Warner football game and couldn’t say no when he wanted to join the family, she said.
“I just try to be a good influence on kids and I open up my heart to kids who are in unfortunate circumstances. They don’t have moms that are there for them,” said Stacy, who still works full-time as a warehouse manager. Byron Canada, recently named one of the top 200 football players to come out of Vallejo (Calif.) High, works in telecommunications and also installs fire alarms in buildings.
“My mom and pops provided for all of us,” Squally said. “It’s pretty amazing, what they’ve done.”
‘A degree from BYU is special’
His parents also instilled in him “the same kind of Christian morals they have here” and that helped him succeed at BYU, Canada said.
“When I was looking to switch schools, I had offers from BYU and Sacramento State and a bunch of junior colleges in California,” he said. “My dad sat me down and told me — because he knew about BYU already — about how prestigious the school is. He said, ‘just cut your dreads. Your hair will always grow back. A degree from BYU is special.’ So just after that talk, I said, ‘OK, I will go to BYU.’”
Because former BYU great Jamaal Williams took Canada under his wing and mentored him on the football field, many assume that Canada is following a similar path off the field. But that’s not true, either.
Williams withdrew from school after running afoul of the honor code, but returned for his senior year.
“He struggled with everything, then came back and straightened out,” Canada said. “I came in and said, ‘I am not getting in trouble from the start. I have just been chillin’ here. You don’t want to get into trouble, you don’t want anything to happen, so you stay at home. I stay home and play video games. That’s about it.”
Canada said every time his friends from back home or his family members visit him in Utah, they stare at the mountains, enjoy the less-crowded conditions and say they want to stay here.
“They like it here,” he said.
So does Canada, but he freely admits he will return to California as soon as his career is over because he can’t bear living away from his family.
“During these past few years, my cousin was shot to death [in Fairfield, Calif.], one of my close friends got shot in the back, and I’ve missed a lot of birthdays and such,” he said. “I am really family-oriented. I just really want to be able to go home and make up for all these years I’ve missed being with my family.”
Tight ends coach Steve Clark, the lone offensive holdover from Ty Detmer’s staff, said Canada might come across as not enjoying his time at BYU with some of his tweets and social media posts, but he really loves it.
“I think he really enjoys it here,” Clark said. “He doesn’t push away from it. He embraces the different culture that is here. I think he learned a lot from Jamaal — that it is better to not kick against it. It is better to embrace it. To me, Squally is one of the happiest guys on the team. He is always happy. He is fun to talk to. That’s how I would describe him.”
New running backs coach AJ Steward said Canada is one of the most positive influences in the running backs room.
“He has thrived in this environment, in my opinion,” Steward said. “He has handled himself really well off the field. He loves his teammates and puts them first. That’s all we really ask of him.”
From the first fumble to the record list
Canada’s first carry in a BYU uniform didn’t go well. He fumbled after gaining a yard in the Las Vegas Bowl against Utah, then was pulled and never saw the field again. It was a long offseason. But he stuck with it, endured from good-natured ribbing from his teammates and some jabs on social media from Utah fans, and gained 315 yards on 74 carries in 2016 as Williams’ primary backup.
During spring camp in 2017, Canada’s cousin who he considered a brother because his mother raised him, was shot and killed while in a car in a bad part of town. The murder of Vinshay J. Bracy, 24, “shook me to the core,” Canada said. He broke down in tears while describing the incident in the summer of 2017.
His grandmother died of natural causes a few weeks later, and he briefly thought about leaving BYU so he could be closer to home. His parents wouldn’t have it. They told him to finish what he started.
“One thing about Squally — when we tell him to do something, Squally listens,” said Stacy Canada. “That’s the difference between Squally and a lot of others.”
With his cousin’s nickname, Shadybo, tattooed on his abdomen, Canada was BYU’s leading rusher last year with 710 yards on 120 carries. He rushed for 213 yards at UNLV, the 10th-best single-game rushing performance in BYU history.
After a self-imposed moratorium on speaking to the media last spring, he broke his silence at BYU Football Media Day at his mother’s request.
Still, he won’t talk about individual goals for the upcoming season or the competition to be the starting running back against Arizona on Sept. 1. Freshman Zach Katoa and new running back Beau Hoge are trying to unseat him as BYU’s primary back.
“I am acting like this is my last year of football, ever,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of extra work, and so have a lot of other guys. That’s our motivation. We don’t want to have another 4-9 season.”
SQUALLY CANADA’S TIMELINE
2013 • Averaged 8.8 yards per carry his senior season at Milpitas (Calif.) High and was named a four-star recruit and the No. 32 running back in the nation by ESPN.com
2014 • Redshirted due to injury at Washington State University
2015 • Sat out the regular season at BYU due to transfer rules before playing in the Las Vegas Bowl against Utah
2016 • Had 74 carries for 315 yards and two touchdowns while serving as Jamaal Williams’ primary backup
2017 • BYU’s leading rusher with 120 carries for 710 yards and six touchdowns, including a 213-yard performance against UNLV, No. 10 in BYU single-game history