Provo • When BYU announced they would be suspending all athletic events, it didn’t just affect the sports that were currently in season. It also halted spring football practice, which was scheduled to continue through March 28.
On Friday, the NFL announced they would also be canceling all Pro Days and in-person pre-Draft visits, and the NCAA instituted a dead period — suspending in-person recruiting through April 15.
With a limit to what the administration and coaches can do, it could be the right time for football coach Kalani Sitake and administration to focus on the search for the new running backs coach.
But they may not have to look far.
AJ Steward left left BYU in February to join the Arizona staff in the same position. Since then, BYU graduate assistant Harvey Unga has taken over the position on a temporary basis, and is one of the candidates vying for the job.
Two weeks ago, when spring football started, Sitake said they were looking to fill the position “as soon as we can.”
“I think we have a lot of good candidates and think it’s important that we work with it and do our best to make sure that spot’s filled by the right person — the right fit,” Sitake said. “[We have] a lot of good, quality candidates and we’ll keep working with that.”
If Unga’s name sounds familiar, it should.
The Provo native played at running back for BYU 2006-09 and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. In his final season, he set BYU’s career rushing record with 3,455 yards — which was later surpassed by Jamaal Williams in 2016.
After being drafted by the Chicago Bears with a seventh round pick in the 2010 Supplemental Draft and spending a few seasons in the NFL, Unga came back to BYU in 2016 to work with the Cougars' offense.
Unga focused on the offensive line in 2016, wide receivers in 2017 and has been working with the running back group since 2018. He is set to earn his Master's degree this spring.
So Unga appears ready for the next step.
Unga's familiarity with the current BYU roster could be a huge advantage, especially after a season that was riddled with injuries and forced the Cougars to test their depth in multiple different positions.
While Steward was instrumental in getting grad transfer Ty'Son Williams to finish up his collegiate career at BYU, Unga was part of the staff that helped come up with a new plan when Williams suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game of the season.
And it didn't stop there. Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa, who were meant to share the RB1 role after Williams was sidelined, dealt with their own minor injuries which opened the door for Sione Finau to step up.
A few days after becoming the first player to rush for more than 100 yards in the 2019 season, Finau suffered a season-ending ACL tear during a team practice. Jackson McChesney, who didn't become active until the last few BYU games to preserve his redshirt year, had a record-breaking game at UMass.
Finau waited until January to have surgery, but is still expected to be in the competition for the starting running back position come fall, along with McChesney and possibly Katoa.
It will be interesting to see how Unga will be able to continue to develop the returning talent and build the incoming talent, should he be given the opportunity.