Provo • BYU running backs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier have read the posts on social media, sized up newspaper articles and fan blogs and heard a few things here and there about how the Cougars desperately need to find a workhorse running back to replace graduated ball-carriers Squally Canada and Matt Hadley and graduate transfer Riley Burt, who is leaving for Utah State.
Frankly, they are not amused.
“I believe I can be that guy,” said Katoa, a redshirt sophomore who had 76 carries for 423 yards and eight touchdowns last year before he suffered a torn meniscus that caused him to miss the Utah game and the bowl game.
“There are still a lot of really good running backs in this program, and I am one of them,” said Allgeier, a walk-on from Fontana, Calif., who got nine carries for 49 yards last year but will be classified as a redshirt freshman because he played in only four games in 2018.
In the media viewing portion of Monday’s team sessions, Katoa, Allgeier, redshirt freshman Sione Finau, redshirt senior Kavika Fonua (back from several devastating knee injuries) and redshirt sophomore Morgan Pyper got carries. Darius McFarland, a hybrid fullback/tight end, caught several passes out of the backfield. Joseph Tiatia, a sophomore walk-on from Hunter High, and former quarterback Beau Hoge are also listed on the spring roster as running backs.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said he is comfortable with the group of backs in camp.
“I really like the guys that we have,” Grimes said. “There are some young guys that don’t have a lot of experience. But obviously Katoa showed us what he could do when he was healthy last year and had some good games. … When he is at his best and he is healthy, he is really good. And he will continue to grow this year. I feel really good about him. Then there are a number of other guys who really haven’t played a whole lot and haven’t had an opportunity to show what they can do. So we’ve got plenty of guys to hand it to. It will be interesting to see who steps up.”
Last year, coaches moved Hadley from linebacker to running back and he became a viable threat late in the season. Safety Austin Kafentzis showed similar flashes when he got carries at the end of the 2017 season — finishing with 227 yards on 41 carries — but Grimes said the junior from Jordan High is “settled in” on defense right now.
“But I know he has a skill set that could help us on offense if we need him.”
Grimes called Pyper, a walk-on from Idaho Falls, “another young guy who has some skills,” and referred to Allgeier as a “big back” who has a lot of natural ability.
“Most guys make their biggest improvement from their first year to their second, so it will be interesting to see how [Allgeier] does this spring,” Grimes said.
Allgeier said he’s working hard in the classroom and on the field to show coaches he deserves a scholarship.
“Once I get my grades up, because they’ve been iffy, I could get one,” he said. “It was a hard first semester [last fall] for me.”
As for Katoa, the heir apparent to most of the carries, he said he is slowly regaining weight and is up to 210 pounds. He hopes to get to 215, but is more focused on getting stronger.
And how many carries per game does he want?
“I don’t really care about a specific number,” he said. “I want the ball as much as they are willing to give it to me. I will take it and run with it. I want to be that workhorse everybody says we need. I am built well enough to do that. My main goal since I got here was to be the every-down back. I don’t know if I am there yet, but I am working towards it.”
Running backs coach AJ Steward said at BYU’s Signing Day on Feb. 6 that the “running back situation at BYU is in a good place right now,” but acknowledged the coaching staff is still searching for more help at the position.
For instance, the Cougars are still in contention for South Carolina’s Ty’Son Williams, a graduate transfer who is planning to visit BYU later this month.
“We have left no stone unturned,” Steward said.
BYU’S RUNNING BACKS
* Lopini Katoa, redshirt sophomore, 6-1, 210
* Beau Hoge, redshirt senior, 6-1, 210
* Joseph Tiatia, freshman, 5-10, 185
• Sione Finau, redshirt freshman, 5-11, 180
• Tyler Allgeier, redshirt freshman, 5-11, 220
• Kavika Fonua, redshirt senior, 6-0, 205
• Morgan Pyper, redshirt sophomore, 6-0, 200
Note: Fullbacks are redshirt freshman Darius McFarland and redshirt junior Kyle Griffits