With Ty’son Williams’ season over, BYU now looking to Emmanuel Esukpa to help carry the rushing load

Provo • When starting running back Ty’Son Williams went down with a knee injury during the Washington game, BYU quickly went into Plan B: Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa.

Williams is now out for the season with a ACL tear and Plan B has been bumped up to A – Esupka and Katoa are listed as co-starters for Saturday’s game at Toledo.

In three games, Esukpa has rushed 80 yards on 18 carries and has 12 yards on two receptions. Katoa has 23 yards on 11 carries and 20 yards on four receptions in four games.

Come game day, if Esukpa is the one lined up for the opening drive, he's ready.

It was sad to see his teammate go down, especially knowing that could have happened to him, he said, but Esukpa is going to keep the same energy going into the rest of the season.

“I'm just going to prepare the same,” Esukpa said. “Work the same at practice, work the same in the weight room and just do what I need to do to get us a win.”


When • Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT

Live stream • ESPN+

Esukpa came to BYU as a graduate transfer from Rice University, where he was recruited by running backs coach AJ Steward.

Steward served as the running backs coach for the Owls from 2014-2017 before joining Kalani Sitake's staff in 2018. The connection almost certainly led Esukpa to the Cougars to finish up his eligibility.

Just like Steward and the rest of the staff worked to get Esukpa to BYU, they also worked hard to get Williams to help bolster the running backs roster. Steward feels bad about losing Williams, a player that was able to make such a big impact on the team in such a short period of time, but has been proud of the way the rest of the group has stepped up, including Esukpa.

“The philosophy is you're always preparing yourself for your opportunity, and that's what they've done,” Steward said. “Each one is seamlessly just falling in place. They're doing their job and doing their part to prepare for when their number is called. That's what I expected, no matter what came up this year. I'm excited to see these guys get opportunities.”

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2018, file photo, Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (25) tackles Brigham Young running back Lopini Katoa (4) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Seattle. Burr-Kirven is No. 2 in the country in tackles heading into Friday’s Apple Cup against No. 7 Washington State. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

And the opportunities have been shared between the six remaining running backs. After Tuesday's practice, Esukpa said everyone's still been getting the same amount of reps.

But when it comes down to what Esukpa brings to the role of starting running back, he thinks his strengths lie in the knowledge of the offense, his preparation, his toughness and mentality.

“I just feel like my maturity also would help me stand to the role,” Esukpa said.

When it comes to Esukpa and Katoa, Steward believes either one has what it takes to make the starting role their own. Both of them have started plenty of games throughout their career and the plan was always to use them in the Toledo game, no matter what.

“They're prepared,” Steward said. “They work hard every day as if they haven't had an opportunity yet. I'm really excited to see what they do. I think they're going to make the most of these opportunities that they're going to get.”

Another opportunity Steward doesn't want his group of running backs to miss out on is the leadership Williams provides.

Although Williams won't be playing, he will be traveling to Toledo with the team.

“Not many times we do that, but as a senior and a leader, we think it's important for him to be with us,” Steward said. “The team responds to him when he says things. The younger running backs in our group, they admire his work ethic. When he speaks, people listen. Definitely, we want to have him travel with us and be a part of it. He's worked his butt off for us, so he should be along with us in this journey.”

Come Saturday, Esukpa will find out if he or Katoa start against Toledo. But either way, he will be happy to contribute any way he can.

So far, playing for BYU has turned out how Esukpa expected.

“Yeah, big-time football with great players and a great coaching staff,” Esukpa said. “That’s exactly what I expected it to be and that’s exactly what I’m getting.”