Provo • While the focus during BYU’s final home game of the season was rightly on the Cougar seniors, a freshman also did some celebrating.
Running back Jackson McChesney came in during the fourth quarter against Idaho State. He wasn’t the only backup or redshirt player to see action on Saturday — due to a sizable lead over the FCS opponent — but McChesney may have shown what’s in store for the running backs for the next few seasons.
It was also the Highland native’s first chance to play — and he did it in LaVell Edwards Stadium, in front of his family. And his first time playing in more than two years.
“It felt really good,” McChesney said. “I have a lot of stuff I need to fix up, but it felt really good to start running the ball again.”
McChesney, who was also recruited by Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame and a handful of Pac-12 schools, went on his church mission to Chile out of Lone Peak High School. But he never wanted to go anywhere other than BYU.
The 6-foot running back was initially recruited by former coach Bronco Mendenhall, then the Cougars underwent a coaching change. Even with Kalani Sitake taking over, McChesney still wanted to join the Cougars.
“It's just always been my dream to come play here and finally getting my first opportunity to play in the stadium is awesome,” McChesney said.
Having just played in one game, and with three games left this season (including the Hawaii Bowl), McChesney will have the opportunity to contribute more on the field while still maintaining his redshirt status.
Against Idaho State, the true freshman rushed 46 yards on 10 carries.
Then there were the other backups that saw action against the Bengals.
BYU at UMASS
When • Saturday, 10 a.m. MT
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Joe Critchlow took over for Zach Wilson, who made his return as starting quarterback after suffering a fractured right (throwing) thumb, to close out the game. Tevita Ika connected on a pass from Critchlow — and his first career reception — for 18 yards.
And a pair of veteran defensive backs — Troy Warner and Chris Wilcox, who redshirted this season for medical reasons — also made their return.
From what he saw from the backups, Wilson believes the future is bright for BYU football.
“Those guys have just been itching to get on the field,” Wilson said. “It was really awesome to see those guys come in and make some plays. It was good to see that we have some depth for the next couple of years and guys that were just maybe in high school could step up.”
With limited games left in the season, McChesney wants to contribute any way possible — even if that's not during games. He hopes to be known for being reliable and when he does get put into action, his teammates can rely on him to get the job done.
The running back group has had its struggles this season. Season starter Ty’Son Williams, a grad transfer from South Carolina, tore his ACL in the fourth game of the season (against Washington) and was lost for the rest of the season.
Senior Emmanuel Esukpa and sophomore Lopini Katoa were going to share the role moving forward, but Esukpa has struggled with minor injuries over the last few games. That’s opened the door for redshirt freshman Sione Finau.
Finau became the Cougars' first running back this season to rush 100 yards in a game against the Bengals.
Next season, McChesney will most likely compete with Katoa and Finau for reps.
“We've all been consistent, all working hard,” McChesney said. “So, whoever gets their opportunity, we're just ready to go take it.”
Even though he didn’t play previously, McChesney has learned from the ups and downs the team has dealt with this season. The Cougars have beaten some good teams and lost to some teams they should have beaten, McChesney said, but they’ve learned from it and have been on a four-game winning streak since.
“You can’t take a team for granted,” McChesney said.