Provo • Lost in the hubbub over Beau Hoge moving from quarterback to running camp in BYU’s preseason training camp is the thought that the Cougars might really need him there.
BYU’s leading rusher from 2017, senior Squally Canada, is back after gaining 710 yards on 120 carries. But second-leading rusher Ula Tolutau (303 yards) is no longer in the program and third-leading rusher Austin Kafentzis (227 yards) moved to safety in spring camp.
What’s more, fourth-leading rusher KJ Hall (206 yards) and sixth-leading rusher Kavika Fonua (87 yards) are still recovering from injuries and have yet to participate in camp. Another running back, Trey Dye, retired from football due to lingering injuries.
Redshirt junior Riley Burt and bruising senior fullback Brayden El-Bakri are still in the mix and welcome Johnny Tapusoa, who moved over from linebacker. Another former linebacker, Matt Hadley, is also getting reps at running back.
This marks another preseason camp installment of breaking down BYU by position groups. Today: The running backs.
“I am extremely happy with the guys we have,” new running backs coach AJ Steward said. “It is about finding the best players on our team to make our team better. When positions change, it is not because a guy isn’t good at the position he used to play. It is not because the position group as a whole is not good enough.”
Steward, a former quarterback, receiver and tight end at Kansas who has coached at Rice since 2012, said all the players in the running backs room add value to the team at that position, which is why they are there.
“It is not because we didn’t have enough quality running backs,” he said. “We are all about strength in numbers here at BYU. We are not a one-man show on offense. We want to have depth at every position and have enough competition to make everybody better as well.”
Last week, Hoge’s father, former NFL running back Merril Hoge, publicly criticized BYU coaches for moving his son to running back. However, a few hours later Beau Hoge issued a statement via Twitter saying he was OK with the move.
Hoge did not participate in BYU’s scrimmage last Thursday and was not made available for comment afterwards. But Steward said he is picking up his new position well.
“Every day, he gets a little bit better,” Steward said. “Really, running back is a rep-type position. He has the skillset and athleticism and speed, and all the other intangibles, to be a really good running back.”
Canada and redshirt freshman Zach “Lopini” Katoa emerged from spring camp listed as the co-starters at running back and El-Bakri is listed as the starter at fullback, with sophomore Kyle Griffits and Tapusoa co-backups.
Freshman Tyler Allgeier, a preferred walk-on from Fontana, Calif., the same town that produced the leading rusher in BYU history, Jamaal Williams, has received a surprisingly high amount of reps in camp. Head coach Kalani Sitake has mentioned Allgeier several times when asked about the depth at the running back position.
“We feel good about the group,” Sitake said.
Returned missionary Sione Finau, a former Kearns High star, has also joined the group but is probably a candidate to play in a maximum of four games and redshirt, Sitake said.
BYU’S TOP RETURNING RUNNING BACKS
• Squally Canada, 120 carries for 710 yards, six touchdowns
• KJ Hall, 30 carries for 206 yards, one touchdown
• Riley Burt, 23 carries for 104 yards, one touchdown
• Kavika Fonua, 18 carries for 87 yards, no touchdowns
• Brayden El-Bakri, 17 carries for 67 yards, one touchdown
Note: Hall and Fonua are recovering from injuries and have not participated in preseason camp