Provo • BYU’s leading ballcarrier the past four games has been Matt Hadley, a senior who only started playing running back a few weeks before that and spent the majority of his injury-riddled career playing safety, linebacker and returning kickoffs.
No offense to the versatile and ever-willing Hadley, but his 44 carries for 264 yards and two touchdowns in the wins over Hawaii and UMass and losses to Boise State and Northern Illinois is an indication that BYU’s recruiting to that all-important position in college football has not been great.
It should also be noted that two running backs who were ahead of Hadley on the depth chart when he made the move over to offense after the Utah State game — senior Squally Canada and freshman Lopini Katoa — have missed big chunks of games due to injuries the past month or so.
Also, the Cougars have played the entire season without prized 2017 running back recruit Ula Tolutau, the Wisconsin transfer who ran into legal troubles midway through last season and has not returned to BYU. The East High product is trying to work his way back.
Canada, Hadley and fullback Brayden El-Bakri, who hasn’t recorded a carry all season, will be playing their final home games Saturday when the Cougars (5-5) host New Mexico State (3-7) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Naturally, that begs the questions: Why can’t BYU recruit better running backs? And who’s going to tote the rock next year?
“We are always looking for the best guys who can help our program out,” running backs coach AJ Steward said Wednesday when asked if the Cougars are combing the junior college ranks and fifth-year transfer market. “That’s the point where we are at. If we can get a guy that can help us immediately, we will do that. … I think we have a good plan in place for that. We’ve recruited some really good players and are excited about what the future brings in that regard.”
However, of the 13 known commitments from BYU’s 2019 recruiting class, none play running back. Jackson McChesney, a 2017 signee who was listed as both an athlete and running back, returns from a mission in time for the 2019 season. Other than that Lone Peak product, it doesn’t appear that help is on the way.
“We are actively pursuing the best players we can get, and I think we have a good core of guys right now,” head coach Kalani Sitake said last week when asked the same question put to Steward. “If we can get a great one, then they are more than welcome to get here if they have good grades and can get in school.”
Sitake said recruiting junior college players to BYU is “not out of the question,” but acknowledged it can be difficult to get them admitted.
“There are standards that come with academics, so yeah, we can [recruit juco stars], but not all of them are available to come to school here,” he said.
So what does next year look like?
Katoa, who has 57 carries for 268 yards and four touchdowns, is the obvious candidate to get most of the touches. He said Wednesday that he’s fully recovered from the injuries that limited him the past few games and expects to play a lot against the Aggies.
Junior Riley Burt, 28 carries for 140 yards, has shown flashes and is again sort of an enigma. Why doesn’t he play more?
“I get those messages, people tweet me all the time about [Burt],” Steward said. “I agree, he is a heckuva talent, and he has everything you look for in a running back. He has just been in the process of learning how to be an every down back, and when the light bulb finally goes off, we will all see it, and those tweets and all that will come to fruition and I will say, ‘you guys are right, he does deserve to be on the field — he’s a great player.’”
Burt, who does not like to do interviews, is averaging 5.1 yards per carry in his career.
“He has worked his butt off all season,” Steward said. “We got a glimpse of it last game. There have been glimpses this season where we have put him in in certain packages. He is slowly progressing into that type of back we think he can be.”
Steward is also excited about freshman Tyler Allgeier, a walk-on from Fontana, Calif., who has played in two games and showed some explosiveness in his only opportunity returning a kickoff.
“He started off on scout team, but he is going to be a great player for us,” Steward said. “We would like to hold his redshirt so that we don’t waste a year of him, because we have guys who can get it done. But he is ready to roll whenever his number is called. The future is really bright for him and it is not just because of his talent. He is a hard working guy, very physical, and tough both physically and mentally.”
BYU’s Running Backs Stats in 2018
Squally Canada — 91 carries, 412 yards, five touchdowns
Lopini Katoa — 57 carries, 268 yards, four touchdowns
Matt Hadley — 44 carries, 264 yards, two touchdowns
Riley Burt — 28 carries, 140 yards, one touchdown
Tyler Allgeier — 2 carries, 14 yards
Beau Hoge — 4 carries, 5 yards